How to help picky eaters

MIAMI - Does your child create chaos at mealtime? Refusing to eat or only eating certain foods? 

Thousands of parents, like Tashara Similien, struggle with picky eaters. 

Her son, Amir, absolutely loved pizza and peanut butter and jelly, but something changed at the age of two. 

"The only thing he would take was PediaSure. That's all that he would want. That's all he ate for about a year," Similien said.

Amir's parents frantically tried everything to get him to eat. Nothing worked. 

"We didn't know where to go with it, and we just felt confused," his dad, Schiller Similien, said. 

Dr. Roseanne Lesack, a licensed psychologist in the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at Nova Southeastern University, said picky eaters are common in childhood.

"I would say most children go through some sort of picky phase. Similar to how children at that stage also have a same shirt that they really like or dress that they love," she said.

Lesack said the biggest and most common mistake parents make is giving up too easily.

"Parents get in this cycle, 'Oh, they don't like it, so I'm not going to offer it,'" she said. "And then they don't get the exposure, so they're not going to like it."

Lesack said parents should keep offering new foods, but start small. Really small. 

"Have them take literally the size of a bite of rice, just to get them over that fear of the unknown," she said.

If your child refuses to eat anything from an entire food group, or just one thing, it may be time to call in a professional. 

"If you really can count on your two hands the 10 foods that your child will accept, that's concerning," Lesack said.  

Amir is making progress at the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program.

"We've seen a change once he allowed her to put the spoon in his mouth," Schiller Similien said. 

Amir is now eating applesauce and yogurt. 

His parents worry about other parents facing the same dinner table disasters.  

"First and foremost, it's not your fault. Don't blame yourself and seek professional help," Tashara Similien said.

If a child is extremely picky, Lesack purées the child's food in the clinic. She said it's harder for kids to spit out and they get some exposure to the flavor. 

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