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Is There a Picky Eater at Your Table?

Is There a Picky Eater at Your Table?

Picky eating is definitely not an issue exclusive to autism. Many children and even some adults struggle with a lack of diversity in their diet. There are many factors that can contribute to picky eating, such as addictions to certain foods, sensory issues, low tone, or resistance to changes in routine. But expanding the diet is possible with the right attitude and a few simple strategies. This discussion will give you some insight into picky eating and some ideas to get better nutrition into your children without adding stress to your home.

Causes of Picky Eating

In my opinion, addictions to certain foods prevent many children from developing an interest in others. As I explained in my post on Diets that Heal, gluten is a protein that comes from wheat and several other grains. Casein is a protein that comes from dairy products. These proteins can actually be found in everything from chicken nuggets to salad dressing. Gluten and casein are difficult to digest, and are therefore common food sensitivities. When they are improperly digested, peptides remain called gliadorphin (or gluteomorphin) and casomorphin, which react with opiate receptors in the brain, mimicking the effects of heroin and morphine. These substances not only affect speech, cognitive and auditory processing, and pain sensitivity, they also become very addictive, much like heroin and morphine.

Additionally, MSG in processed foods and foods naturally high in glutamates excite our neurons and this makes us feel good and want more.  So it is easy to become addicted to foods that contain these substances.  I talked more about this in a post entitled Excitotoxicity: When Nourishing Foods Do Harm.  There are also other allergies and intolerances that manifest as addictions.

If you remove gluten, casein, MSG and other addictive substances from your child’s diet, their interest in other foods may change dramatically. After a period of withdrawal, you may start to see changes, and these changes may go well beyond a willingness to try new foods. Now you can really start introducing nutrient-dense foods in appealing ways!

One thing I really encourage parents to do is to cook in batches and freeze in small portions. It may take your child ten times or more to gain interest in a new food. Since you will be trialing this food at least ten times, you might want to cook at least enough for several or all portions. Since it is best if everyone at the table eats this new food together, keep that in mind when cooking in batches.

I love these Mumi & Bubi Trays because they are BPA and PVC free, dishwasher safe, and contain lids so that the food does not absorb odors from other foods in the freezer.  We use these to freeze small portions of pureed liver to add to hamburgers, bone broth to add to soups, applesauce for baked goods, tomato paste for sauces, veggies to add to smoothies, heavy cream to add to Dad’s coffee, and more. After they are frozen we pop out the cubes and store them in freezer bags or containers in the freezer. Being organized saves so much time!

Overcoming Problems With Picky Eaters:

Here are some ideas for making the transition to a healthier diet:

1. Removing addictive foods is an excellent first step. Just by eliminating addictive foods you are moving in the right direction. You may have to temporarily replace these favorite foods with processed foods that are substitutes for the foods they are addicted to, even if that is not the diet you are shooting for. Once food addictions are broken the process of dietary change can really accelerate.

2. Replacing the old foods one food at a time is a good strategy. They might object to any changes for a while and you want to have plenty of other foods they will enjoy on the plate so you don’t feel defeated or have to prepare something different.

3. If your child can express why he or she likes or dislikes particular foods, take advantage of this and try to figure out their own personal “food rules”. Do salty foods have to be crunchy? Do sweet foods have to be warm? If your child is nonverbal, you can figure this out yourself by keeping a food log.

4. Small amounts of new foods are less intimidating for your child and may make you more relaxed and like there is less at stake than an entire wasted plate. You can start with less than a teaspoon.

5. Introduce new foods at a time of day you know they will be hungry.

6. When you introduce foods, let them know what to expect. Is the food sweet? Salty? Spicy? Warm? Cold?

7. Let your child know that it is ok to just lick it or spit it out. This is a low-risk situation.

8. Try to accommodate texture preferences when introducing new foods. If your child loves fruit smoothies, try adding a piece of cooked butternut squash to it. If they like mushy foods, you can serve it mashed. If they like crunchy foods, you can make fries or chips out of it.

9. Try to involve your child in the shopping and food selection. It is also wonderful to include them in food preparation where appropriate. A buffet is an option many children enjoy. The idea is to offer them choices.

10. Some foods are easier to introduce at the beginning than others. Broccoli has a strong flavor. This may not be the best choice to start with for some kids, while others may love foods with strong flavors. You know your child best and what flavors appeal to them.

11. Use healthy fats, spices, dipping sauces and dressings to make foods more enticing and nutritious.

12. Make food attractive and fun. Skewers, smiley faces and animal shapes can go a long way to help a child get the food into their mouth the first time so that they can acquire a taste for it.

13. Don’t push or force your child to eat the new food. Just eat it yourself and express your own enjoyment of it and always reward any interest in it, no matter how small. Touching it, licking it, tasting it and spitting it out or even allowing it on their plate can be a step in the right direction and can be rewarded as a good effort.

14. You may want to let your child play with the new food in order to gain familiarity with it. I know we were taught not to play with our food, but whose rule is that, anyway?

Above all, Prepare yourself for the possibility that it may take 10 or more attempts to get the results you are looking for. Don’t expect success on the first try or you are setting yourself up for failure. It is a process. Relax and let it happen. Before you know it, your picky eater will be a dinner table superstar!

Come join my group on Facebook, where we are always discussing these issues! 

Using my Fullscript dispensary, you can enjoy 30% off MSRP (this was an option that I decided to extend to you rather than keep for myself) on my favorite product lines such as Thorne, Klaire, and Pure Encapsulations.  There are no fees to join, membership or any tricks. Free shipping over $50. This website is designed for me to pass along recommendations to my clients but I want to pass the savings along to everyone. You can visit my Fullscript dispensary here.

This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Please consult with a qualified medical professional before making any dietary or supplement changes. Read our full disclaimer here.




  1. Heidi says:

    I’m so glad you found my site! Thank you so much for linking up at Gluten-Free Monday on I hope you’ll continue to come back each week.

    I definitely have some picky eaters at my table. Thanks for the tips. I have found that if they try a bite each time we have something, eventually, there are many things they have learned to eat.

  2. Thank you for these tips. I have a picky eater baby. She does eat fruit but prefers simple foods like potatoes or oatcakes. She doesn’t like dinners such as stew or very many soups.
    I like the tip about keeping exposing them to the same foods over and over. My problem is I rarely make the same meal twice so it doesn’t give her any chance to get used to it.

    Thank you.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Katherine, I tend to make foods with more complex flavors as well, and I also rarely make the same meal twice (too many interesting recipes to make when you follow as many food blogs as I do, LOL). I did start out with more simple flavors and recipes with my daughter and work up to the complex. I am happy to say she now will eat just about anything! It can be done. 🙂

  3. Lori says:

    Wow! these are practical and doable steps to work with a picky eater. Wish I’d had them when my girls were little. They’re more creative than, “Sorry, you have to eat it!” At least I’ll be ready for the grands one day 🙂

  4. Diane Balch says:

    Great recommendations. I never made a different meal for my kids. If they didn’t like something they didn’t have to eat it. I think if they know you’ll give them a bowl of pasta they will be less open to trying new foods. Our doctor always said sometimes a kid has to be exposed to a food 10 times before they will eat it. 10 times is a lot. Glad to find your blog.

  5. Rachel says:

    Very interesting idea about the food addiction! I never really thought about it that way!

  6. Thanks for the suggestions. Some of these hadn’t thought of before. Like asking my child what kinds of textures he likes. This may be helpful.

  7. Cindy says:

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing, I have this pinned to the Gluten Free Fridays board!

  8. One of our granddaughters is a picky eater, thank you for the tips and Thank you for sharing at the hop xo

  9. Mariah says:

    These tips are going to be very useful for me. Unfortunately, we have a picky eater at the table and it freaks me out when he does not want to finish the food on his plate or even take a bite of the food prepared.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Hi Mariah! I am glad they are going to be useful! It is not an uncommon situation at all and it is just something we have to work at until we overcome it

  10. Maryann says:

    I found you from Gluten Free Fridays thanks for interesting info.

  11. Very good, practical advice. All three of my kids were picky eaters when they were young, but mostly grew out of it in their teens. I learned early that texture was the biggest issue for them, so I tried to accommodate as much as possible. Thanks for sharing on Hearth & Soul Hop. 🙂

  12. Hi Dawn, Such sensible advice for those children who need time to learn to enjoy new tastes. Thank you so much for sharing this with us at Seasonal Celebration! Be sure to pop by and this Wednesday to see if you have been featured. Rebecca x

  13. Sheila says:

    I was just talking about this with my client last Monday! Her daughter who is 14, is a picking eater, I told her to read some information on the web about this issue. Even though her daughter is a teen-ager, she might still be able to help her. I will send her this link today.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Shela, it is such a common issue and can be such a source of frustration for parents! Yes, even a 14 year old can change her eating habits. It is never too late. I hope this article helps!

  14. Love the tips! We’ve used many of them with each of our 5 kids. One point I would love to make is that kids’ tastes may change over time. Our oldest son was very picky, and now as a teen, he is willing to try lots of different foods he wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole 5 years ago. Even the little ones are more willing to try stuff.

    Thank you for linking up at Motivation Monday! Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  15. Elise says:

    I love all of these ideas! Thanks for sharing, stopping by from a blog hop

  16. Sharon says:

    Great tips for introducing new foods and overcoming picky eating habits! Thanks for linking up to Wildcrafting Wednesday #67! Hope you’ll join us again this week!

  17. […] It is difficult with picky eaters to remove gluten (and casein) from the diet, particularly because of their addictive properties. If changing the diet dramatically overnight will not work for your family, a good approach is to first remove gluten (and casein if desired) foods from the diet, replacing the foods you like to eat with gluten free and casein free options, even if the food you are substituting with is not the nutritious fare you ideally want to eat. It is becoming quite easy to find gluten and casein free options. Most find that once the addictions to gluten and casein are broken it is much easier to transition toward a more nutrient-dense diet. You can learn more about how to do this in my post Is There a Picky Eater at Your Table? […]

  18. Happy Life says:

    YES! my son, he only like hotdogs and corned beef.. I will try your tips.. Hope it works. 🙂

  19. SharingMom says:

    Thanks for this article! I will be posting this article on my facebook page:

    Join me there for recipes and tips for Autism & other disorders. I enjoy connecting with others who are interested in using real food to help special needs kids! 🙂

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