Episode 8: How Do I Help and Challenge My Picky Eater, with Jenny Friedman

Special guest Jenny Friedman talks about how to help mom’s navigate picky eating. Our conversation includes how to identify a picky eater, ideas on expanding food choices, feeling less mom guilt about your picky eater, and where to find help if you need more support.

Jenny Friedman can be found on Instagram: @autism.nutritionist or  by Website: jennyfriedmannutrition.com

Episode Resources: 

Today’s episode features my friend, Jenny Friedman, who is a registered dietician, specializing in extreme picky.  Jenny is known for her playful and approachable style and has become a leading resource for parents and professionals working with children who struggle at mealtimes. You’re going to find a treasure trove of information on Jenny’s website, JennyFriedmannutrition.com. Jenny has a freebie that you can pick up: Five ways to help your picky eater try new foods, which is on her website. Jenny also has a new book coming out that you can preorder. You can find Jenny on Instagram @ autism nutritionist

If we have children at home that are picky eaters, is this something that should be concerning to us?
I would say regardless of whether it should be concerning to you, it probably is. At the very least, it is probably frustrating. I talk to so many parents and many moms who tell me that their child was a delight when they were an infant, they moved on to solids and they ate everything. They loved vegetables. And then suddenly, it’s like a light when light went off and everything changed, and they become very selective and started to limit their diet. And this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, even though it is certainly  frustrating and stressful, it’s a natural phase for kids around 18 months to that three year mark to go through a picky phase where they’ve just started to become a lot more discerning and they’re asserting their independence. And so around that time, it’s natural to see the diet fall. But I would say, you know, there are certainly some red flags to look at or to be aware of that can kind of serve as triggers for you that maybe this is something that’s a little bit more severe than like the traditional picky eating that we see around this time.

What are those red flags and what should be concerned about?
If your child just was fickle and maybe they’re refusing formerly preferred foods, or if they’re getting particularly fussy that is typically what we see as, you know, more on the normal side of the spectrum. But if a child is constantly dropping foods, so their diet limits to maybe under 20 foods or so that is not great. And that’s a potential trigger because with such a limited diet, it can be hard to meet all our nutritional needs. Also, if a child is refusing entire food groups. So, let’s say they’re not really eating any protein, they’re not eating any fruits or any vegetables. That’s also something that can be potentially a signal going off for you to investigate it.

If they are maybe eating foods of all the same color or all the same texture that could be cue, that something else is going on as well. And if they also have trouble eating with you as a family member or eating outside of the home or with friends, that’s can be a sign that it’s a little bit more severe than kind of that typical phase. So those would be traditionally some of the things that we would look for there can definitely be more, but certainly if you see things getting worse instead of getting better and really if your child is eating kind of the same handful of foods over and over and over again, and is not very receptive to trying new foods, then you might want to reach out to your pediatrician or to a feeding therapist, a dietician just to see what’s going on.

Would this be something thing like the child would have liked a repertoire of foods and then stopped, or never progressed to having a nice variety of foods at all?
So, yeah, that’s a great question. You know, I typically see more that children transition from eating a wide variety to a very limited variety. There are kids though, who have always struggled to eat from the beginning that people would classify as “he’s always been picky” or “she’s just never been a great eater.” But to me that’s not natural. Kids are born not knowing how to eat but wanting to eat. And if something is wrong, you know, kind of from the beginning, then picky eating could be a sign of that. There could be an underlying medical condition, a tongue tie, food allergies, or maybe something GI (gastrointestinal) going on. So, I may see a distinction between pickiness that develops and a chronic problem that’s been around since day one. 

What do you do about that? How do you get your child to expand their food choices and to get them to eat more food?
Yeah. So that’s the fun part of it. Right. The first thing that I would do is when you notice this happening or when you’ve identified the picky eating as more extreme, I would continue to serve a variety of foods, and even if your child isn’t eating them, even if it seems to make them a little upset, I would avoid restricting their diet to only the foods that they like. This is because when you do, I feel that we are inviting them to continue these behaviors. And we are preventing them from stepping outside of their comfort zone. So, I would continue to offer a variety of foods as the number one suggestion.  And I think the easiest thing that we can do is to role model and to continue to eat a variety of foods yourself in front of them. And just set the example because they do learn from example. 

So those are two easy starting off points. 

My son had food allergies discovered early on and I found that I was scared to death to start implementing new food as I was scared that he was going to have a reaction. What do you say to women, or just parents in general, who feel like it’s their fault? That somehow, they’ve made it worse or kept the picky eating going because of not offering them more variety or introducing new food slower? How do I get rid of that feeling bad that it took me so long to do it?
Yeah. I think that’s hard. I think that’s probably part of being a parent and being a mom, but I mean, it’s not your fault. There’s research that supports this and that this is what I always go. Even if you are a picky eater yourself, it doesn’t mean that your child will be picky. And I’ve never seen a situation where a child develops, we’ll say picky eating because of anything that the parent has done. Usually there’s some sort of underlying change in their taste buds, change in their growth, or something medical like they’re constipated, and they don’t want to eat so they’re limiting their intake. Or maybe it’s a sensory issue. It has nothing to do with the parents, even though it still feels like, Oh, you know, they have allergies or sensory issues that it’s my fault. It’s not, that’s not something that we can control, so it’s not our fault. But as parents we are in the position to help improve it. You know, it’s not something that most kids will inherently do on their own. So when they’re in that traditional developmental phase, those kids will kind of grow out of it, but they still need us to expose them to new foods and to offer the variety or else, they’ll be eating their same couple of foods all the time. As with everything, it’s our job to guide them along.

So, it’s not our fault, but we have the role to help improve behavior. When you talk about introducing foods, I had always heard you have to introduce a food 10 times before a child eats it. I don’t know how true that is. That’s more your specialty. So why don’t you talk about introducing foods? What does that mean? Does that mean you introduce a little bit at a time, or do you introduce it multiple times? Like how does it work in terms of the introduction? Do you have to increase the frequency of introducing the foods?
Yeah. And it’s a great question. I kind of think about maybe the distinction between an introduction, which might be just an exposure to a new food versus tasting and eating the new food. That exposure is so important because it gets a child used to it, you know, so kind of the first thing that they need to do is be comfortable looking at a new food. If something about the way the food looks is really turning them off, then there’s no chance that they’ll ever put it in their mouth. So that exposure and introduction is kind of one part of it. The other important part is having the food on your plate and putting it in your mouth, or maybe it doesn’t go on the plate, but it needs some end up in the mouth. And that’s where you’re talking about those 10 tastes. And so that’s a real thing that research says, we need to taste things a minimum of eight times before we develop a comfort and maybe a like for that food.

So that’s typically what I tell kids.  The first time you try it you probably won’t like it yet. It does take us time to learn and our bodies need to adapt. And the older we get and if there are potentially any underlying barriers, like sensory or medical issues, that number can double or triple. Many of the kids I work with are on the more extreme end of the picky eating spectrum and need to taste a new food several times before they really feel comfortable with it. And before that they maybe need to just meet the food and get to know the food several times before they’re ready to even taste it. 

What does that look like? So, say we have like blueberries because I’m looking at blueberries on my counter. Say we have blueberries, do we put the blueberries on the kid’s plate and then we just kind of leave it there. And then if the child doesn’t eat it, we just keep doing it each day repeatedly. Is that what you’re talking about?
Yeah. So that’s one strategy. Just keep offering, you know, they may not eat it the first time. Okay. That’s fine. You know, we all have those days. It’s new, weird, it’s blue. That’s okay. Hopefully after several times, the child will initiate eating and start to eat it on their own, especially if they see you eating it. Especially if they started to touch it and explore it. The goal, you know, in anything, most kids will initiate that eating process, but some kids may not. This is maybe when some guidance can come in and we can encourage the child and help them feel comfortable to make that next step.

So, Jenny, any tips to lessen the power struggle that is often seen with trying new foods? Do you have any suggestions to help minimize that?
Yes. So that is one of the major sources of stress for parents. So often, I find that the kids who I work with their parents do tend to describe them as maybe being controlling or stubborn which may play some sort of role in this. But I also think that a lot of times when kids are anxious about trying new foods that can manifest as them wanting to be in control and that’s where the power struggle comes in. As parents, we feel like maybe it’s something we should control or we’re trying to control. Everybody just wants to be in control – but that doesn’t help anything. It just makes us feel worse. It makes the kid feel worse and it doesn’t get us anywhere. So really what I would say as a parent is:  try to let go and know that it is up to your child to eat. I recommend always serving at least one preferred food at meals. You know, if they’re truly hungry, they always have something to eat. So hopefully that can minimize some of the anxiety about them being at the table, starving.  They might be a little hungry and then may be a little cranky, but they’re probably not starving. So, it’s not easy, but hopefully you are providing food that they’ll eat. Offer new foods and let it be. Let them figure out what to do with it. I recommend just trying to remain calm, ignore any negative behavior, any behavior that you don’t want to see repeated. And it’s a lot easier said than done but know that you’re doing your job. And if you are really feeling like you are grasping at straws and you’re not sure where to go. Don’t sit there and let that get to you. And don’t take it out on your kid. Just reach out to me or someone else, and we’ll help you through that.

 That’s what I was going to ask the, what if, if I want help or if any of the listeners need help, what sort of help is out?
I do offer coaching and I work with families and children with strategies that could help. You can always bring it up with your pediatrician. And I would just be clear about what your child has been eating. It can be helpful to bring a food diary, a log of what they’ve been eating for three days. Because a lot of times a pediatrician may be quick to kind of push this issue off. Parents may get feedback like: he’s fine, she’s okay, it’s normal, but they’re fine and they are growing okay. And you know, as a parent, that is not okay. So that’s when you can certainly reach out to me, or you can certainly look for food or feeding therapists in your area. Oftentimes an occupational or speech and language pathologist will be helpful.

Wow guys. I’m so happy you were able to hear Jenny impart her knowledge about extreme picking eating. You can find more on Jenny at JennyFriedmannutrition.com or on Instagram @autism.nutritionist.  Being a busy woman or mom doesn’t mean that we must give up on our health wellness or self-care. We can take tiny, imperfect steps towards creating the whole health we desire and deserve. You can find us@wholehealthempower.com or on Instagram @wholehealthempowerment.


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