Science Gives Parents the Solution for Picky Eaters (Part 2 with Dr. Kay Toomey) (HPC: E75)

“Eating is the hardest thing kids will ever do.”

What?!?!

Have you ever thought about what we do 5x/day like this?

Dr. Kay Toomey was the MOST fascinating interview I’ve ever done, and it ran so long, we had to cut it in two pieces for you!

Be sure to catch part 1 here all about the difference between picky eaters and problem feeders. If you think you have a picky eater, this part of the interview will help you understand WHY your kids are so wiggly at dinner, the special chair that could make all the difference, and more practical tips for kicking picky eating to the curb.

According to Dr. Toomey, it takes real intentionality to help your kids expand their palates — most kids won’t just “grow out of it” like we secretly hope!

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From the extra little plate you’ll now set on the table to the way in which food is served, to your rules about who moves (the food or the kid), your routines are about to be turned upside down! But if your kids eat better with fewer power struggles…isn’t it worth it?

No time to watch the whole video? Here are the notes!

Solutions for Picky Eaters Video Time Stamps

Practical Advice for Picky Eaters

  • 1:18: We jump right in with the most important thing you can do to help your picky eater!

Any breathing issue can impact how kids eat. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 1:44: People often think that eating is your body’s number one priority. That is not the case! Breathing is your number one priority. Think back to the last time you had a cold and how your difficulty breathing impacted your eating.
  • 3:17: Turns out eating isn’t even your second priority! This is so fascinating and mindblowing!

Correct Sitting Position to Facilitate Healthy Eating

  • 4:36: The correct seated position for everyone is a “90-90-90 position.” This means you’re at 90 degrees at the hips, knees, and ankles. Kids are usually expected to sit with no foot support in chairs that are too big for them for meals and doing homework.

The most important thing is to get your picky eater in the correct seated position. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 5:15: Dr. Toomey describes how you can get your child in the correct position in an adult chair.
  • 7:01: They make adjustable wooden chairs that can be easily adjusted as your child grows. You want to make sure that the seat and footrest are both adjustable forwards and backward and up and down.
  • 7:56: The correct height for a child at the table is for the table surface to hit halfway between their belly button and nipples. If you’re making adjustments on an adult chair, don’t use a soft cushion like a pillow, use a firm surface. You can purchase couch foam from craft stores to make back cushions and seat elevators. Just be aware that you’ll need to make new ones as your kid grows.
child sitting in a chair

After recording this interview I caught my son sitting with his feet under him or one on the floor to ground himself.

  • 9:13: To clarify: these seating recommendations are not just for picky eaters. All kids (and adults!) should be sitting this way!
  • 9:36: Dr. Toomey recommends that you don’t bother with a highchair. An adjustable chair can be used as a highchair from about 7 months old with added straps and you can keep using it until your child is about 10 years old.
  • 10:36: We talk about child-sized tables and whether that’s a good substitute.

Model Healthy Eating for Your Child

  • 11:32: The second best thing you can do to establish healthy eating habits is to eat with your children and model healthy eating for them. Research shows that kids are far more likely to try a new food when the parent is sitting with them and eating the same food.

The only time kids eat new foods is when you are sitting and eating the new food with them. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 13:00: If you want to take action today, at a minimum put a step stool under your kids’ feet to ground their feet. That’s a good start if you aren’t ready to get an adjustable chair and can’t do everything to make an adult chair child-compatible today.
  • 13:39: Some kids like to stand at the table to ground themselves and adjust their height to the table. Sitting is better than standing.  The correct seated position helps them feel grounded and keeps them at the table.
  • 14:40: The top reasons why kids leave the table are because they aren’t posturally grounded and because they aren’t sure they can handle the oral motor or sensory aspects of the food being served.

The Importance of a Mealtime Routine

  • 15:07: The third most important thing we can do is structure our mealtimes with a routine.

We want to structure our meals to help our kids get to the table, stay at the table and be adventurous eaters.  -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 15:32: Many of us don’t have a routine for meals. Dr. Toomey gives some practical ideas of what this could look like.
  • 17:18: You can even set the table to facilitate better eating habits. Who knew these seemingly small details could have such a big impact!?

Family style serving is key to teaching kids to learn to eat new foods. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 18:18: If you hand a child a new food and that triggers a fight or flight response, their adrenalin gets turned on which shuts down their digestive system and suppresses appetite.
  • 19:11: Start serving the food by giving the child their favorite food at the table first. If the child is reluctant to accept any foods, Dr. Toomey has several options that will give your child exposure to new foods without them even putting it on their plate.
  • 21:23: Including kids in the kitchen (which we love here at Kid’s Cook Real Food of course!) helps them learn the sights, smells and feel of different foods with no pressure to eat it. There’s a new component of expectation when you introduce a food at the table.

It's easier to learn about new foods at the counter and the stove than it is at the table. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 22:16: After everyone’s done eating, a cleanup routine is an important way to end the meal.

We’re keeping the kids at the table by letting them move the food away from themselves if they’re not ready for it versus moving themselves away from the food. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 24:03: It takes about 2 weeks to learn new routines so it might be a bit chaotic at first, but stick with it!

Teaching Your Kids About Food

  • 25:29: Dr. Toomey explains what the “learning plate” is. This comes into play when you’re serving something that you know will be tough for your kid to eat.
  • 26:49: When you’re cooking the meal, that’s when you can think like a dietician. Once you approach the table you need to come as a teacher.

You need to teach them how to eat. You are the professor, your child is the student, the food is the subject and every meal is a class. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 30:05: When we’re acting as dieticians we focus on questions like: Has he eaten enough protein? Is she getting enough vitamin C? How much volume have they eaten? Instead of being the observer tallying up how much they eat, you need to engage and explain why you choose certain foods and what they can do for your body.
  • 31:39: Try to keep mealtime conversations positive and pleasant. We don’t want to talk about negative emotions or scary news that will spike adrenaline while we’re eating.
  • 32:27: The same goes for rushing and hurrying through a meal. This can raise adrenaline as well and lead to stress which impairs digestion.

If you're not ready to eat it, we can at least learn about it! -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 34:15: Be a fun teacher! If you’re not enjoying the meal your kids won’t enjoy it either.
  • 34:27: When I hear “family-style serving” I see dirty dishes piling up! If you have a super picky eater it’s worth some extra dishes to help them, but what if your kids aren’t picky? Is that still good practice?
  • 36:20: We’ve been talking about what’s ideal here. Let’s talk about what’s realistic to do in a day.
  • 37:30: We use lots of phrases here at Kids Cook Real Food to help people remember concepts. One I like to use to help little kids at mealtime is “Do you want a serving or a taste?”
  • 38:00: Some families have a “no thank you plate” or “no thank you bite.” Dr. Toomey explains the problem with these.

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  • 39:06: If a child truly can’t handle taking a bite of a new food I recommend that you offer them the option to smell, lick or taste it. This method gets Dr. Toomey’s seal of approval! Phew!
  • 39:42: When we make children taste something when they can’t handle it, they’re likely to have a negative experience and then they’re averse to that food. You need to let them take it at their own pace.

Smell is an introductory way to get a taste. -Dr. Kay Toomey

  • 41:52: Dr. Toomey shares her encouragement to help you get started making changes today.

Here at Kids Cook Real Food, we teach kids to cook so they can build connection, confidence, and creativity in the kitchen. Dr. Kay Toomey shared how connecting with your kids over your food can go a long way towards building confident eaters!

Thanks to her for so much great actionable advice today! I think any parent can learn something from this interview and apply her advice regardless of whether you have a picky eater or not!

Resources We Mention to Help Picky Eaters

Dr Kay ToomeyDr. Kay A. Toomey is a Pediatric Psychologist who has worked with children who don’t eat for almost 30 years. She has developed the SOS Approach to Feeding as a family-centered program for assessing and treating children with feeding problems. Dr. Toomey speaks nationally and internationally about her approach. She also acts as a consultant to Gerber Products. Dr. Toomey helped to form The Children’s Hospital – Denver’s Pediatric Oral Feeding Clinic, as well as the Rose Medical Center’s Pediatric Feeding Center. Dr. Toomey co-chaired the Pediatric Therapy Services Department at Rose Medical Center prior to entering private practice. Dr. Toomey acted as the Clinical Director for Toomey & Associates, Inc.’s Feeding Clinic for six years and SOS Feeding Solutions at STAR Institute for eight years. Dr. Toomey is currently the President of Toomey & Associates, Inc., and acts as a Clinical Consultant to the Feeding Clinic at STAR Institute.

Help for Picky Eaters

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