Feeding issues can be difficult for parents of kids with special needs. Children can develop finicky eating habits for many different reasons, including sensory and taste aversions, poor muscle control and gut issues, among other things. It is an occupational therapist’s goal to try to determine the source of a child’s aversions and help him eat safely, healthfully, and in a socially acceptable manner.

Following are some easy tips from pediatric occupational therapist, Cara Koscincki, MOT, OTR/L, to help your finicky eater become more adventurous at the dining table.

1. Encourage children to help with mealtime preparation. Ask them to help make the weekly menu and take them shopping for ingredients. Let kids do some non-dangerous parts of cooking and make it a fun and memorable time.

2. Use the “one bite” rule. Children should be encouraged to take at least one bite of each food on the plate. Don’t push for more bites if the child does not want them. It takes at least 10-15 tries of one food before we get used to it. Exposing kids to a variety of foods will help them be more willing to try new things.

3. Make sure there’s no pressure at mealtime. Keep meal times short for younger children, especially toddlers who get distracted easily. Reduce stress and keep conversation light and fun. Reserve mealtime for eating and being together; save family decisions for another time.

4. Consider the temperature and textures of food. Some kids like warm food and others prefer to eat cold items. Think about what your child prefers; when trying a new food, keep it at that temperature. For example, my son will not eat anything unless it’s at room temperature. We want him to eat, so we present his meals after they are cooled.

Remember that you can freeze foods, too; some fruits and vegetables taste delicious right out of the freezer. Peas fit little hands perfectly. Frozen mango is also a good option.

5. PLAY with food. Consider current holidays, cartoon characters or kids’ interests. Make silly faces out of vegetables and fruits. Encourage kids try foods as you play to experience different tastes and textures. Use dips as “mud” and sensory play. Do not get upset if kids make a mess since many picky eaters, especially those with sensory processing issues, do not like their hands to get messy.

Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, is the author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series. Find more at www.pocketot.com.