What can I do about my daughter being a very picky eater?

My question is in regards to my eight-year-old daughter. She is very limited in the foods that she will eat and she is very unwilling to try anything new. She has been like this since about the age of one and a half when we were transitioning into finger foods and more adult-like foods. I was certain she would outgrow this but now at eight she is not willing to try anything new. I try to make certain she gets the nutrients she needs to be healthy and grow properly and I am certain she is fine in that regard but…we are very frustrated and embarrassed by her behavior. She is a great kid, very social, outgoing and smart.  She does well at school and takes great pride in her abilities. The problem I foresee is that she is missing out socially. I view it as more than a psychological problem than anything and I’m at my wits end as to what I should do. She loves cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, cereal, bananas, apple sauce, tomato soup and a few other things…but that’s it. When we ask her to try something new she becomes very upset, starts to gag and can not even try it.  She eats no meat or vegetables. I do often make “smoothies” which contain milk, bananas, yogurt, an instant breakfast and tofu-she loves them and has no idea they are full of good stuff. I need some advice. A friend of mine is an OT, she had mentioned something to me about “feeding clinics.” Is this something we should look into?  Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

You have done a magnificent job in insuring that she is doing well in terms of her nutrition. You are right that the issue is her perceptions.  First of all recognize that you have won at least 80% of the battle.  I would suggest that you emphasize to her, her incredible achievements.  You and her together have managed to keep her healthy and well functioning in spite of her severe food restrictions. Talk to her about the social part.  Help her understand that it is important for her to have a small amount of flexibility.

Encourage her to try extremely small amounts of a variety of foods.  Put it to her that this is a social issue…gagging, throwing up and getting upset are not very sociable responses.  In fact they are downright rude, even if it is done in her own home.  I would have a tryout dish before every meal. This can be a miniscule amount of a different food. Let her choose between two options e.g. four peas or four kernels of corn. Give lots of praise for success, ignore minor rudeness and punish major rudeness. Teach her how to be gracious in her refusals so that she can function socially.

Bring her into your confidence. Let her know, gradually, that the fantastic smoothies have a variety of foods in them. She has to get enough nutrition and she has to navigate a social environment in which food is an important component. Fortunately, the world has come to respect a wide variety of food sensitivities. In summary, continue doing what you are doing, just don’t tolerate her being rude in this area.  In the end, she will have to manage the social aspects of her sensitivity in her own way. Given what you have done I don’t think it will be a major problem. She will learn that food is as much a social vehicle as a source of nutrients.

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