Occupational therapist and picky eating
Allyson Owen

How can an occupational therapist help with picky eating?

Occupational Therapists (OTs) are uniquely positioned to address picky eating due to their training in analyzing activities and understanding how to facilitate lasting behavior change. By looking at your mealtime environment, an OT will help you identify which aspects are facilitating a positive interaction versus which ones could potentially be contributing to imbalances, power struggles, and/or negative behaviors. They can also help you problem-solve and experiment with different strategies until you find something that works best for your specific situation and family dynamic.

Here are 8 ways how an occupational therapist can help with picky eating

  1. Help you identify why your child might be exhibiting picky eating to begin with.  An OT might raise several questions when reviewing your specific eater picky eater situation. The answers to these questions will help them suggest specific strategies that will work best for managing your situation.  Here are some examples:
    • Do they not like certain textures in their mouth?
    • Do they not like to touch the food?
    • Do they not like the way the food looks or is presented?
    • Do they not feel stable in their chair or seating arrangement while eating?
    • Do they not understand mealtime expectations?
    • Do they feel respected and supported?
    • Do they feel hungry, or can they recognize their internal hunger cues?
    • Do they feel pressured to eat?
  2. Provide you with suggestions to modify the environment to allow for a set-up conducive to the occupation of eating. This might look like introducing new tools or utensils to your child to help them independently feed themselves, positioning them in their chair, so they feel balanced, creating a mealtime routine, etc.
  3. Provide you with creative ideas for exploring new foods and decreasing food anxiety for the family through food-play and fun, engaging games for your kids that will get them excited to learn about how food affects their little bodies.
  4. Address the sensory aspect of eating by getting to know your child’s specific sensory needs and helping you develop a sensory diet for optimizing the eating experience.
  5. Help you with suggestions to modify certain meals and recipes to allow for the acknowledgment and inclusion of different preferences within your family, but without placing the burden on you that short-order cooking and catering to every family member can create.
  6. Focus on Ellyn Satter’s “division of responsibility in feeding” to put the power back in your hands.
  7. Some OTs have specific feeding therapy training and can help you expand your child’s food repertoire in a meaningful and purposeful way through behavior change techniques and strategies such as food chaining, oral motor exploration, etc.
  8. Some OTs also have nutrition training and can help you learn new ways to incorporate more nutritious options for your picky eater to meet them where they’re at in their food preferences while also being confident that they are getting the nutrition they need to thrive.

This just scratches the surface of how an OT can help you with your picky eating situation. Matching you with a VitalGuide can help you get more individualized and personalized assistance to feel at ease with mealtimes again. Take our “Solve Your Picky Eater Problem” quiz that will point you towards the provider who can best address your situation and/or book a free discovery call for more assistance.

Related Articles on Picky Eating

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Sensory-friendly recipes from Heidi

Get a free picky eating guide


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