12 Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters (2023)

Get inspired with the list of feeding goals for picky eaters that’s perfect for OT’s and speech therapists that are providing pediatric feeding therapy!

12 Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters (1)

If you’ve found your way here from a Google search as an occupational therapist (OT) or a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for feeding goals for picky eaters, you’ll find a lot of examples below.

But, this is also a parent-friendly post, because I think, as a parent, it’s incredibly helpful to know and understand either what your child’s feeding therapist is working on or what types of goals you can set in your own home, although perhaps not as formally.

As an occupational therapist of nearly 18 years, I’ve written MANY feeding goals for picky eaters, or kids that were struggling to eat more than few foods.

Do All Picky Eaters Need Feeding Goals??

Picky eating is a BROAD term that encompasses everything from a child that doesn’t like vegetables to a child that gags when he sees any new foods.

Picky eaters that need feeding goals have severely limited diets that are either impacting their growth and height, and/or are causing significant stress in the child or family’s life on a daily basis.

Kids with a developmental delay, autism spectrum disorders, or sensory processing disorder commonly have feeding difficulties. However, lots of kids that are typically developing in every other way can have feeding difficulties.

If you’re a parent and aren’t sure where your child falls on this spectrum, take our picky eating test, to see which category of picky eating your child falls into.

PFD, ARFID, Problem Feeders, and Extreme Picky Eaters

Fortunately, we now have a proper feeding disorder diagnosis for kids that are struggling to eat a variety of food that captures the challenge much better than “picky eating,” which is Pediatric Feeding Disorder (PFD).

(Video) What is Food Chaining? A Pediatric Occupational Therapist on Getting Picky Eaters to Try New Foods

In the past, terms such problem feeders and extreme picky eaters were frequently used by therapists to describe these children who had a difficult time eating because of their sensory processing, oral motor skills, or physical conditions.

Those terms are still used for kids that don’t have the diagnosis, but generally have less than 20 foods and have extreme reactions or consistent utter refusal to eat new or different foods.

ARFID, or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, is not a feeding disorder, it is an eating disorder in the same category as anorexia and bulimia. Kids with this diagnosis have irrational anxiety about food such as it not being safe, and DO NOT have underlying medical, oral motor, or sensory challenges that affect eating.

The non-profit Feeding Matters has great visuals explaining the difference between ARFID and PFD.

When to Set Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters

As a therapist, the goals should be set during or after the initial feeding evaluation when a trained therapist has assessed a child’s feeding. In some settings, a different therapist may set the goal than the therapist that will be working on the goals in their therapy session.

12 Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters (2)

Changing Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters

If the treating feeding therapist doesn’t feel that the goal is appropriate, talk to the family about adjusting the goal at the 3 month review.

Likewise, parents should have a say in the goals, and feel they are appropriate for their child too. If the goal is too “easy” or too “hard” parents can and should express these concerns to the feeding therapist that’s working with their child. It’s important goals are realistic.

Most often, a pediatric feeding therapist is an occupational therapist or speech therapist, in some cases, it could be a dietician or even psychologist. Whatever the therapists background is in, they should have specialized and advanced training in helping children with picky eating/feeding difficulties.

How to Create Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters

When a therapist creates a new feeding goal for a picky eater, there are several factors that include:

(Video) Picky Eating Isn't About the Food | Katie Kimball | TEDxHartford

1. What is important to the parent and/or child?

  • Sometimes therapists see a child’s challenge or difficulty and can immediately see all the things they can do to help the child. That’s not a bad thing, but if we move ahead without finding out what the family and child’s priorities are, then we’re missing the point. And, parents are likely to not be invested and carry over treatment at home.

2. What is realistic or obtainable?

  • It’s critical the goal that’s set is able to be achieved with intervention, otherwise everyone is frustrated and disappointed when working to reach a goal that is far too hard. New goals can be created as old ones are reached.

3. What is measurable?

  • Feeding goals must have a measurable component so therapists are able to assess if a child has been successful or not. The goal should be clearly objective, not subjective.

4. How long will you measure this goal?

  • Most feeding goals do well to be over a several month period as intervention strategies take time and consistency. But, this will also depend on the feeding therapy setting and the families circumstances, you may have shorter or lengthen time frames and the amount of trials as part of your goal.

5. Use your clinical knowledge, education, and the results of the assessment to determine how much assistance, if any, a child will need to reach the goal.

  • With every one of the above elements in creating your goal, you also want to make sure it aligns with what you saw in the assessment or that you know is backed by evidence and/or your clinical opinion, when that applies. That also includes if they’ll need physical assistance or verbal cues.

For instance, the family may communicate that their greatest desire is for their child to have some more protein sources, but you see that their oral motor skills are weak from the assessment. This will help you tailor the goal to include the specifics of “soft or pureed proteins”.

Examples of Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters in OT or Speech Therapy

Use the above 5 steps as you work to create your feeding goals for picky eaters. They can be adjusted to work for a variety of settings. These feeding goals vary by age, skill level, underlying cause, and time frame:

12 Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters (3)

1. Ava will tolerate (1/2/3) new foods on her plate without throwing the food while eating preferred food during meals in 1/3 trials with (25/50/75%) physical assistance and with (25/50/75%) verbal cues so that she can get used to being near different foods.

2. Logan will touch 2 new foods in 4/5 trials without direct physical or verbal prompting which can be interpreted as pressure, but with 25/50/75% modeling through play and cooking activities so that he can become comfortable with the textures of a wider variety of food.

(Video) SOS Approach to Feeding Parent/Caregiver Workshop

3. Sam will sit at the table for meals in his (classroom/home/cafeteria) without getting up more than one time in 3/4 trials with (25/50/75%) physical assistance and (25/50/75%) verbal cues so that he can participate in the mealtime experience with his family and eat his food.

4. Leah will chew (soft cooked cubed foods/hard crunchy foods/mixed texture foods) without gagging and safely swallowing in 4/5 trials with (25/50/75%) physical assistance and (25/50/75%) verbal cues so that she can eat a wider variety of foods and increase her nutrition.

5. Chase will close his mouth and swallow pureed foods/stage 1 baby food without spitting it out or gagging in 2/3 trials given (25/50/75%) physical assistance and (25/50/75%) verbal cues so that he can begin to take foods orally and be weaned off his feeding tube.

6. Savannah will feed herself diced foods using a fork in 3/4 trials given (25/50/75%) physical assistance and (25/50/75%) verbal cues so that she can eat independently at meals.

7. James will independently eat 1 new protein as part of his meal in 2/3 trials given 0% physical assistance and 0% verbal cues, as both would be a pressure technique, so that he can expand his variety of foods and get more nutrition.

8. Maddie will sit down and eat the same meal as the rest of the family without yelling when at least one preferred food is provided in 4/5 trials with 0% physical assistance and 25/50/75% verbal cues so that she can learn to tolerate a wider of foods and not only accept specific meals that are different from the rest of the family.

9. Conner will drink 1 oz of milk from a straw cup without coughing in 3/4 trials given 25/50/75% physical assistance and 25/50/75% verbal cues so that he can wean from his bottle and begin to have milk with his meals.

10. Melanie will use her hands to feed herself finger foods in 4/5 trials given (25/50/75%) physical assistance and 25/50/75% verbal cues so that she can feed herself independently and tolerate more textures of food.

11. Jake will voluntarily touch a new food to his mouth in 2/3 trials independently with modeling and without any verbal prompts or physical assistance as this would be pressure, so that he can tolerate the sensory input from the food and eventually be able to eat it.

12. Ella will take 2 small bites of a new food, chew the food completely, and swallow with (15/50/75%) verbal prompts and (25/50/75%) physical assistance so that she can work on managing larger quantities of food as she develops her oral motor skills.

(Video) Eating Issues and Food Selectivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Are you feeling inspired to create your own feeding goals for picky eaters? Let us know in the comments what you came up with and if you have any questions!

What I Mean By “No Pressure” in Feeding Goals for Picky Eaters

I follow the research of Ellyn Satter and my treatment approaches align with Responsive Feeding movement and SOS approach to feeding, which is why you see notations about “not pressuring” in several of the feeding goals for picky eaters.

While traditional feeding therapy behavioral techniques are still used by some, I think OT’s and speech language pathologists that want to use a positive child directed approach for treatment can be tempted to pressure during data collection of these goals.

If I indicated the goal is touching to lips, taking a small bite, or even licking a food, I want to be clear that I’m not sitting across from a child and repeatedly asking them to do that, nor am I rewarding them when they do. Instead, I’m using play with food, cooking, sensory bins, and other strategies to work on them exploring food on their own volition.

Learn more about this picky eating approach.

However, if a child doesn’t have the motor skills to feed themselves, close their lips, or chew, you may need to use physical assistance and verbal cues to help them complete the task they’re working on.

Grab the Feeding Therapy Ideas Printable!

If you’re a therapist that’s working on feeding, grab our special feeding therapy printable: Feeding Therapy Ideas (+Oral Motor Exercises Printable)

If you’re a parent, we have this version of the printable that will be helpful for you too. You can get the parent version here!

More on Feeding Therapy for Picky Eaters

8 Big Feeding Red Flags for Babies and Toddlers

3 Ways to Tell If You Have a Good Feeding Therapist

(Video) Selective Eating in Children With Autism (2021)

How to Wean Your Child From Tube Feedings to Eating By Mouth

Self-Feeding: The Complete Guide for Babies and Toddlers

Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 17 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.


How do I get my picky eater to eat new food? ›

Offer bite-sized portions of new foods at meal time and avoid pressuring children to "clean their plate," which interferes with their natural hunger cues. Praise children when trying new foods and refrain from using dessert as a reward. Don't give up, as it may take up to 12-15 exposures for a new food to be accepted.

What is food chaining therapy? ›

Food Chaining is a child-friendly treatment approach that helps introduce new foods while building on the child's past successful eating experiences. In this process, the child is presented with new foods that may be similar in taste, temperature, or texture to foods the child already likes and accepts.

What is the psychology behind picky eaters? ›

Parents of picky eaters are often concerned that their child is not gaining the proper nutrition needed for brain and body development. Using systematic and hierarchical graduation of non-preferred foods parents would like their children to consume helps build a varied palate.

How do you use a food chain for picky eaters? ›

Think about finding foods of the same color, food group, texture, shape, flavor or smell. After identifying similarities within your child's diet, begin by offering foods with similar characteristics. If your child enjoys apples, expand to presenting apples whole or cut. Try green, red and yellow apples.

How does a picky eater diet? ›

8 Tips to Help Picky Eaters Eat Healthier and Lose Weight
  • Translate your favorites into something else. ...
  • “Retrain” your taste buds. ...
  • Take baby steps. ...
  • Rethink your go-to meals. ...
  • Order something different when eating out. ...
  • Get cooking. ...
  • Get inspired by social media. ...
  • Find a foodie friend.
8 Mar 2022

How can a picky eater eat healthy? ›

Try vegetables with mild flavors

Aiming for vegetables with mild or sweet flavors can be the best way to begin because they tend to be more acceptable to picky tastebuds. Vegetables considered mild in flavor include cauliflower, cucumbers, zucchini, and spinach.

What age does picky eating end? ›

Do remember that picky eating is often “developmentally normal.” Children across the globe go through a picky eating phase from about age 2 to about age 4.

Why is my 3 year old such a picky eater? ›

It's perfectly normal for preschoolers to object to the shape, color, or texture of a food – or to suddenly decide that they hate everything, even foods they loved yesterday. It's also common for them to have what experts call food jags. That is, they insist on eating the same few foods at every meal.

What happens when a child only eats junk food? ›

Regular junk food intake leads to long-term health problems such as obesity, accompanying emotional and self-esteem problems, and chronic illnesses in later life. A single fast food meal could add 160 and 310 extra kilocalories to the daily caloric intake for teenagers and younger children, respectively.

Are picky eaters born or made? ›

Most Americans (71 percent) say that picky eaters aren't born that way; instead, they acquire the behavior at some point in their upbringing. That's according to a survey of over 2,200 U.S. adults carried out by The Harris Poll.

Is there therapy for picky eaters? ›

Whether your child is a picky eater or has a feeding disorder, they may benefit from pediatric feeding therapy. Feeding therapy can help to identify whether their struggles are due to physical problems with chewing and swallowing or whether it is texture or consistency.

Is being picky a mental disorder? ›

Although pickiness has not yet been officially recognized as a mental disorder, the American Psychiatric Association is considering its inclusion in the next edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the official compendium of emotional and mental disorders.

What should a 5 year old picky eater eat? ›

Make fun, healthful treats together, like yogurt-and-fruit banana splits or smoothies. Look for ways to boost the nutritional value of the foods your grade-schooler enjoys. Put some tuna or ham on his grilled cheese, or meat or tofu in his spaghetti sauce, for example.

Is Picky eating genetic? ›

Innate and genetic taste sensitivities play a key role in the development of picky eating behaviors in young children but are not the only factors involved.

How do you introduce food on Arfid? ›

Only introduce one or two new foods at a time: Trying more than that can make the experience overwhelming and stressful. Always pair new foods with familiar foods. 2. Try new foods during the time of day that you're most hungry: You'll be more open and willing to taste new foods if you have an appetite.

How can a picky eater eat more vegetables? ›

Some Do's For Picky Eaters
  1. Do Serve Veggies First. ...
  2. Do Make Snacks Count. ...
  3. Do Make Breakfast Green. ...
  4. Do Be Adventurous. ...
  5. Don't Let Them Forget Where It Comes From. ...
  6. Don't Eat On the Go. ...
  7. Don't Be Fooled By Fake Veggies. ...
  8. Don't Forget To Ask.

What's another word for picky eater? ›

You are a finicky eater — that is, you are quite particular about food. Fastidious, fussy, picky, persnickety: these are all synonyms for finicky, and they all suggest someone with extremely exacting tastes and habits, someone almost impossible to please.

Do parents create picky eaters? ›

Other children develop picky eating habits by modeling their parents' fussy eating habits. Picky eating habits are more likely to develop when parents punish, bribe or reward their children's eating behaviors. The goal for feeding a picky eater should be to try new foods and to keep food from starting a battle.

What foods stimulate appetite? ›

Fruits like bananas, apples and oranges. Protein bars or granola bars. Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and fruit. Nut butter and crackers.

What vitamin can increase appetite? ›

Certain vitamins and minerals, including zinc and vitamin B-1, can increase appetite. However, these usually only work if the person has deficiencies in these nutrients. Other supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may boost appetite.

What increases appetite? ›

Tips to Increase Your Appetite
  • Make your food look nice. Use garnishes, different plating, and multi-colored foods to stimulate your appetite.
  • Make food available. Get readily available, high-calorie snacks like nuts or dried fruit. ...
  • Avoid strong-tasting foods. ...
  • Try a light exercise before you eat. ...
  • Try a meal replacement.
27 Apr 2021

What can I feed my picky eater for breakfast? ›

Here are eight breakfast ideas, including a few recipes, for you to try and see what works with your little ones.
  1. Make-ahead egg muffins. ...
  2. Frozen whole grain waffles. ...
  3. Whole grain cereal. ...
  4. Nutty toast. ...
  5. Breakfast bars. ...
  6. Yogurt. ...
  7. Egg burritos. ...
  8. Smoothies.

Should you force your child to try new foods? ›

Don't force a child to eat. Encourage them to try new foods, but don't get into fights about it. And do not make them finish everything on their plate (the "clean plate club" my parents always encouraged us to be part of is not a good idea).

How can I get my child to eat new foods? ›

No matter what age your child is, it's never too early – or too late – to encourage them to try new food.
  1. 5 ways to encourage children to try new foods.
  2. Get them in the kitchen. ...
  3. Try to offer a choice. ...
  4. Be a good role model. ...
  5. Never force or bribe a child to eat something. ...
  6. Be mindful of portion sizes.

Why does my child gags when trying new foods? ›

There are many signs of oral hypersensitivity, but one sign that is concerning for many parents is vomiting or gagging with new foods. This often occurs when a child's sensory system is overloaded, and as a result, his body perceives the new food as noxious.

What is food Neophobia? ›

Food neophobia, that is the reluctance to try novel foods, is an attitude that dramatically affects human feeding behavior in many different aspects among which food preferences and food choices appear to be the most thoroughly considered.

Are picky eaters born or made? ›

Most Americans (71 percent) say that picky eaters aren't born that way; instead, they acquire the behavior at some point in their upbringing. That's according to a survey of over 2,200 U.S. adults carried out by The Harris Poll.

Do parents create picky eaters? ›

Other children develop picky eating habits by modeling their parents' fussy eating habits. Picky eating habits are more likely to develop when parents punish, bribe or reward their children's eating behaviors. The goal for feeding a picky eater should be to try new foods and to keep food from starting a battle.

Is picky eating a learned behavior? ›

They found that certain genes related to taste perception may be behind some of these picky eating habits. "For most children, picky eating is a normal part of development," says Natasha Cole, a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I and lead author of the study.

What is food therapy for kids? ›

Feeding therapy, in its simplest form, is when a trained occupational or speech therapist helps teach a child how to eat or eat better. Feeding therapy typically occurs once or twice a week for 1 hour each time, and at NAPA within its intensive model of 1 hour per day, 5 days per week, for 3 weeks.

When should I be worried about a picky eater? ›

In general, parents with concern over if their child's picky eating is not average should consider some key traits commonly seen in children with more extreme picky eating (also outlined on this printable): Will eat less than 20 different foods on a consistent basis. May refuse whole food groups.

What do you do when your child refuses to try new foods? ›

Things to try
  1. Take your time. It can take between 15-20 exposures (or offerings) before a child is willing to put a new food in their mouth. ...
  2. Offer foods in different forms. Think about the way in which you are offering a food. ...
  3. Relax the pressure. ...
  4. Think outside the plate.


(Sherunda Simone)
2. Baby Sleep Basics
3. Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters - K Barnhill, MBA, CN, CCN
(Autism Research Institute)
4. Could a Child's Facial Structure Contribute to Picky Eating?
(Melanie Potock)
5. EDNOS: Most Dangerous, Unheard of Eating Disorder | Nightline | ABC News
(ABC News)
6. WHEN FOOD IS LIFE || Are You A Real Foodie? So Relatable by 123 GO!
(123 GO!)
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