Is your child a picky eater?

Broccoli and kids are like oil-and-vinegar…they don’t always mix well. However, why are some kids pickier than others?! And how do you get an extremely picky kid to eat their vegetables?!

The answer could be in their gut.

The Broccoli Backlash

“No!” The infamous word that no parent likes to here—especially at the dinner table.

What sets an extreme picky eater apart from just your “Average Joe” picky eater?

Sure, there are kids that will eat a few select veggies and fruits and other foods, but then there are others…Kids who get the “ibby jibbies” about trying something new, don’t like green foods or those that can’t stand certain textures.

Often times these extreme picky eaters refuse almost any food that is not processed, carb rich or plain meat-and-potatoes-only. Their diet often consists almost exclusively of breads, cereals, pastas, burgers or chicken nuggets, potatoes and sweets.

Parents grow tired of “fighting” or trying to get them to eat and may even feel like they have to “give in” in order to get their kiddo to eat. However, while vitamin-enriched, whole grain cereals, pasta with “added protein”, calcium-fortified bread and fruited yogurt, “organic” boxed Mac and Cheese, and “natural fruit flavors” may be touted as “healthy” options… they might actually be feeding the wrong kind of gut bugs in your child’s gut, and making the situation worse, not better.

The reason why your kid may be “super picky?”… Look to their gut!

Gut Bacteria & Picky Eating

Research reveals that some species of bacteria crave certain sweet, processed and carb rich foods as their preferred energy source so that they can thrive and expand.

These gut bugs send signals to the child’s brain and OTHER parts of their body (like their tongue and taste buds) that drive cravings for the very foods that help out that particular species.

Our gut bugs are ALSO capable of CHANGING taste receptors-both producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good with certain foods (1).

This is why other novel foods (like broccoli or carrots) may seem a “threat” to the child.

What to do about it?!

10 Essentials to Get Any Picky Eater to Eat Different Foods

1. Probiotic Up.

Healthy gut bacteria helps drive healthier “cravings” and may be a key game changing first step for re-shifting the gut microbiome. If your kiddo can’t swallow capsules, no sweat. Simply pour the powder into applesauce, a smoothie, yogurt or other dish and consume. Here’s my top recommendation HERE. (Note: The pediatric dose for kids 2 and under would be starting with 1/4 the dose, then titrating up to 1/2 the dose. For kids 2+, they can take the same dose as recommended).

2. Add in Fermented Foods.

Nature’s probiotics provide more gut friendly critters to the mix and can also be added to smoothies, applesauce or consumed in the form of yogurt. All your child needs is 1 to 2 condiment sized servings per day on a consistent basis. Note: If gas, bloating or indigestion occur for several weeks after incorporating, this could be a key sign that point #7 (gut testing) may be super important.

Kid friendly fermented foods:

• Coconut water or water kefir
• Goat’s milk kefir or organic, pastured milk kefir
• Grass-fed plain organic (full fat) yogurt or coconut yogurt
• Fermented cucumbers or pickles
• Sauerkraut with cranberries
• Fermented ketchup, mustard or mayo

3. One Thing

Start with one thing on the plate and act totally normal about it. Yup Make it seem 100% normal (remember baby feeding-it’s typically one food kids are introduced to). Less options equals less overwhelm. You could consider the food to try as an “appetizer” or “snack” and just see how he or she adopts it. Offer a sauce like paleo ketchup or honey mustard if he likes, or bring in your child’s favorite stuffed animal or action figure to “eat” too and make it fun.

4. Give Em a Choice

No one likes to be told what to eat. Give them 2 options to choose from—that way you still keep things in closer control, but they feel like they have autonomy. Broccoli with grass-fed cheese or zucchini chips? Homemade sweet potato or carrot fries? Kale chips or green bean fries? Let them choose.

5. Make it Crispy & Crunchy.

Sometimes the veggie or new-food game is all about the presentation. No one likes bland steamed watery spinach or canned green beans. Jazz it up with a kid-friendly crunch like the foods mentioned above: homemade sweet potato fries, carrot fries, kale chips, zucchini pumpkin muffins, etc.

6. Master Chef It.

Wrangle them in to be a “Master Chef” with you! Have them help you make the grocery list for the kid friendly version of a food they love—Coconut flour crusted pizza, Cauliflower mashed potatoes and burger patties, Homemade chicken nuggets, etc. Then hit the store and kitchen together. The more involved they can be in the hunt, prep and consumption of their food, the more involved they may be in actually trying it!

7. Copy Cat.

Who does your child love? Steph Curry the basketball star? Bob the Builder? Elmo? Belle from Beauty & the Beast? Make up a social story about how their hero takes care of their body via eating healthy food that fuels them to do what they do. Help your child get into the “as if” mindset to practice the “so as I think, therefore I become” philosophy.

8. Heavy Work, Squeezes and Calming.

Often times there is a big sensory processing component to feeding issues or pickiness—leaving the child feeling out of sorts in his or her own body. Occupational therapy often addresses this with a combination of “heavy work” (animal walks, weighted vest, pushups, jumping jacks, squats, moving toys), calm (swinging, brushing, hugging) or stimulation (rotational swinging, heavy work) and compressions or touch (i.e. big hugs, squeezes, brushing, etc.), depending on the child’s needs. These tactics help the child feel at home in his or her own body, stimulate their brain activity and prepare them to do the “hard thing” more willingly (like trying a new food). Before meals (10-15 min), do some heavy work—bear crawls, animal crawls, pushing things, jumping and crashing, and also squeezes, smushes and hugs. Dry brushing may also be something to also try. Consider consulting with an occupational therapist for more individualized direction.

9. Positive Reinforcement.

For some, the ABA therapy style of introduction (i.e. using the processed food as a bribe to eat other foods first) can be helpful, but it is often a last resort.

10. Test, Don’t Guess

Beyond probiotics and trying new things with a new approach…sometimes those unhealthy or unhappy gut bugs are STILL there (inside). This is where a customized approach to helping your child’s physiological health needs comes into play by testing (not guessing).

Depending on their health history and current presentation and symptoms, certain tests that may be helpful include:

  • Comprehensive stool testing
  • SIBO breath testing
  • Functional blood chemistry
  • Organic acids testing
  • Nutrition profile (urine testing)
  • Food intolerance testing

No need to decide which ones to use. Consult with a skilled functional medicine provider, gut specialist or nutritionist knowledgeable in this area. Once test results are back, a specific protocol for addressing any underlying gut issues (such as candida, SIBO, parasites, or dysbiosis) may be warranted. Typically a pediatric gut healing protocol includes some basic gentle herbals, possibly bio-film disruptor (a more specific enzyme or herb to target pathogenic bacteria) and plenty of probiotics for 30 to 90 days.

In my private practice, I’ve witness kiddos in as little as 2 to 3 weeks become open to the idea of trying a new food and symptom-free from picky eating within their 30 to 90 day protocol.

Freedom from being a picky eater is possible.

1. Alcock J, Maley CC, Aktipis CA. Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. 2014 Oct;36(10):940-9. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400071. Epub 2014 Aug 8. PubMed PMID: 25103109; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4270213.