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What To Do With a Picky Eater – GAPS Eating/Chewing Issues Part 2

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Earlier this week I posted some information about what could be the cause of a picky eater. Now I’d like to give some tips on what to do about it. I’ll start with what the GAPS book suggests. And also give some ideas that have worked for us.

The main solution in the GAPS book is called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)…in other words behavior modification. One step at a time get your child to change their behavior so that they can get the nourishment they need…which will in turn heal them and allow them to taste food normally and eat normally and stop the cravings for the bad stuff. Basically the child has to work for what they want…they have to try something new (the undesired food) before they can get the food they want. Most children are resistant at first, so it is tough on the parents. But over time it can really help. Children learn quickly 🙂  Start small…start the meal with trying one bite of a new food. And create a reward that goes along with it…a treat (a “safe” one…homemade baked good, crispy nuts, dried fruit) or even a toy (sticker, silly band, etc.). If the child eats the bite of food they get the reward…and LOTS of praise. That is key. If the child will not try the food…the reward isn’t good enough/isn’t worth it. Find a new reward. Gradually increase to 2, 3, 4, etc. bites of a new food. Keep trying this with a variety of foods. Try something new/eat the good stuff…get a reward. Over time the child will change their tastes and be eating a variety of healthy food. Be sure to give lots of praise and encouragement in the process. And don’t make a big fuss when it doesn’t work. Talk about the food with your child…how it nourishes them, how it’s grown/where it comes from, etc.

We have been somewhat doing this with Rebecca lately. With things like squash and eggs. We say she has to try just one bite. If she doesn’t like it, that’s fine. She just has to taste one bite, then she can eat the rest of her dinner…the stuff we know she likes. And so far it has gone well. Amazingly she is starting to like squash. Sometimes there will be a larger reward too…a special dessert at snack time if dinner goes well (if she chews well, etc.). Last night she ate her entire serving of squash! And she kept saying, “momma I like this.” Amazing.

Here are a few other things we’re trying.

1. Set a time limit on meals – Lately I’ve been showing Rebecca where the minute hand is on the clock. Then I tell her where it will be when meal time is over. Regardless of how much she has eaten, that’s when the meal is over. This helps encourage her to keep chewing/swallowing and not hold food in her mouth.

2. Play time – I tell her that if she eats faster (not necessarily a good idea for some kids, but for her it’s necessary) she will have more play time.

3. Hide food – I mix some of the foods she thinks she doesn’t like into things she does like. This helps give her a small taste of them (without knowing it). Then when she does try them on their own it’s not a foreign/gross taste. Lately for breakfast every day I serve Rebecca a mix of pumpkin, kefir, plain yogurt, 1 egg yolk and a little honey. Then I let her choose what we mix in – peanut butter, frozen blueberries, crispy nuts, granola or sometimes a few chocolate chips. I also make smoothies with some type of fruit, avocado, kefir, egg yolk and honey.

4. Thin it out – for a while Rebecca had major texture issues with thick/pureed soups. So I started adding a little water or broth to hers to thin it out. She loves brothy soups. So she’ll eat them that way. Again, she’s getting the taste of them…so now she’s starting to enjoy them without being thinned (like pea soup and squash soup).

5. Try a different form – Rebecca has always had issues chewing/swallowing eggs. But we’ve found she’ll eat them cooked like a thin tortilla (but gags on scrambled eggs). So I make that for her instead of scrambling them. Same food, just a different texture. Plus it’s more fun. She uses the tortilla to make little sandwiches with pesto, cheese and chicken.

6. Don’t ask/don’t tell – Sometimes it’s best to just not say anything. I just serve her some food and don’t tell her what’s in it (like if I mix avocado or something into a dish). And see what she does. If I tell her ahead of time that I’ve mixed something in she’s less likely to eat it.

7. Set a good example and share – You can’t expect your child to eat healthy if you don’t. So you have to eat what you want them to eat. If you are eating junk food and then say they can’t have it, it doesn’t work so well. I find it helpful that I share a lot of food with Rebecca…meaning I often take bites of what she’s eating/what’s on her plate. It’s actually quite funny. I’ll sneak a bite of her food and she’ll say “thank you for sharing, momma.” 🙂  She often offers me a bite of her food too. When we share she’s more likely to eat her food.

8. Bring on the broth – broth and stock are so nourishing and healing. Find ways to add it to your meals daily. I’m thankful that Rebecca loves chicken broth. She’ll drink it plain out of a cup. Or I just make random soup with whatever is in the fridge for her lunch. The chicken stock I make is so mild that I find I can use it in place of water in many things. I personally use chicken stock instead of water when I make my smoothies. I also mix it in with squash as a tasty snack or side dish. It works great in sauces (like sweet and sour sauce for stir fry). Be creative.

9. Make it fun – Rebecca loves using unique bowls, cups, straws, etc. So if I give her a cup of broth with a fun straw she’ll slurp it down. If I make a smoothie or pumpkin yogurt and use a fun spoon she thinks it’s great! Her breakfast is most often served in her Aerial cup with a Sebastian spoon 🙂  You can get creative and use all kinds of kitchen items to serve food. I sometimes use Rebecca’s play dishes (after making sure they’re clean 🙂 for her food. Or you can use muffin tins, misc. serving bowls, mugs, etc. Let your child pick the dishes and silverware. Make meal time fun.

If you have a picky eater I encourage you to try some of these tips and be sure to include lots of nourishing broth in their diet. And if you’re struggling to come up with snacks and meal ideas, here are some of our favorites. The recipes for most of them are on my recipe page.

Chicken noodle soup – Rebecca LOVES this – I use homemade whole wheat noodles in hers. And she uses a straw to drink the broth.
Egg tortillas – with a variety of fillings and dips (Rebecca loves homemade pesto and parmesan cheese)
Kefir smoothies
Yogurt/kefir with add-ins – egg yolk, honey, fresh or frozen fruit, nut butter, pumpkin, spices
Dried fruit – raisins and dried apples are Rebecca’s favorites
Fruit leather
Fresh or frozen fruit – Rebecca loves blueberries that are frozen…I guess they’re more fun that way 🙂
Any kind of pureed soup thinned with extra broth – add toppings to make it more fun (cheese, nuts, etc.)
Chicken nuggets – with homemade dips (honey mustard, honey, ketchup)
Veggies with dips – Rebecca likes to dip things in nut butter and pesto
Homemade graham crackers with nut butter
Crispy nuts
Salmon cakes or fish sticks with homemade tartar sauce
Hamburgers – you can mix in a variety of veggies – squash, pumpkin, avocado
Nut butter bread or coconut flour bread
Homemade milkshakes
Chicken salad made with homemade mayo
Meatloaf – you can mix in a variety of veggies
Apple raisin bars
Homemade vanilla wafers

Do you have any tips for feeding a picky eater? Any favorite nourishing foods?

I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Remember to keep it fun, keep praising your child for the good things and be patient.

This post is linked to Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager.


  1. Sara says:

    Whoa! Holy posts!! I have been getting the emails, but didn’t realize there were so many new posts since I’ve visited last! I’ve got lots to catch up on.

    Carson has always been a slow eater, too. He eats well, but he’s generally pretty slow, even if it’s something he loves. He’ll take a bite and eat it fairly quickly, but then likes to talk or something quite a bit between bites. We’ve tried the play time thing and time limit… which both do nothing to phase him. 🙂

    We definitely do the don’t ask don’t tell sometimes. Carson went through a phase where he said he didn’t like celery if he knew it was in the soup… well then I stopped telling him and I’d see him eat quite a few bites with celery in it… then I’d tell him what he’s eating. He’d just smile and say he was just kidding that he really does like celery. haha.

  2. The Voogts says:

    Glad to hear Carson is a good eater. I wouldn’t mind if Rebecca was slow in the sense of just getting through the meal. I just wish she could chew/swallow the food faster. She is so focused on talking, singing, reading, playing, whatever that she doesn’t bother to chew. Or the texture issues come into play. Either way, it’s a very slow process. Although we’ve had some good days lately. Fingers crossed 🙂

  3. Wendy says:

    All very good advice, Mary! We call our one bite a ‘no thank you bite’. I distinctly remember serving my girls the same food over and over AND OVER again before they finally decided they liked it!
    I rarely eat junk food and try to teach my girls about real food, but sometimes it’s so hard to get around outside influences. They can be exposed to so much at school, friends’ houses, grandparents, etc.
    In any case, thanks for sharing!

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