MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They hate broccoli…but love pizza.

Many kids are picky eaters, making family dinner time particularly tough on parents. But the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital is converting kids to vegetable-lovers, one at a time.

Six Foods For Five Years

“I found it and just went: ‘I have to do this,’” said mother Peggy Christansen.

Desperate to change her son’s appetite, Christansen was willing to try anything. Sixteen months ago, her son was eating only frozen pizzas, chicken patties, fudge cookies, chocolate pudding and, once in a while, grilled cheese.

Jake, 11, who suffers from severe autism, stuck to those six foods for nearly five years.

“The first couple sessions that we worked with Jake, I think he hid in the corner the whole time,” said Sara Lux, Jake’s occupational therapist.

Now, 16 months later, Christansen says she’s seen a world of improvement.

“We can go out to eat as a family,” she said.

Jake will give any food at least a try.

“Soft-shell tacos are one of his favorite,” Christansen said.

Four Step Process

Lux says one of the secrets to Jake’s success is that he starts by eating foods that are similar in color, shape and size.

“We would start with maybe orange M&M’s and then we would transition to like an orange gold fish,” Lux said.

Christansen says what’s called the four-step process has been their go-to strategy.

“Any new food or anything different: you smell it, you kiss it, you lick it, you bite it,” Christansen said.

If the child still doesn’t eat the food, let them know there’s a “safe plate” nearby where the child can place the food.

While the feeding therapy program is for more extreme cases (kids that refuse to eat less than 20 foods), parents can use these strategies to help kids develop skills for life.

Even if a child is 7 or 8 years old, experts say it’s not too late to change habits.

More Information

What can you do? Get kids involved in cooking. Experts say this increases their interest in the food and makes it less threatening.

As for Amplatz Children’s Hospital’s feeding therapy program, most sessions take about 12 weeks. You need a physician’s referral, and the therapy is covered by most insurance programs.

For more information, click here.


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