Ep. 133: How Occupational Therapy Can Help Address Picky Eating with Dr. Ellie Bendetson and Leah Hiller

May 16, 2023 | 0 comments

We’ve talked about occupational therapy on the podcast before, but we’ve never dug into a struggle for some children and families that occupational therapy can help. The topic of picky eating comes up for many families, for both neurodiverse and neurotypical children. And parents of picky eaters know that it impacts so many aspects of their lives, not just mealtime. 

While picky eating is a common behavior in early childhood, it’s not always something a child will simply “grow out of”. And today’s guests explain how unique everyone’s experience is with food. Dr. Ellie Bendetson is an expert in picky eating and in supporting families of picky eaters. She joins the conversation today with Leah Hiller, who returns as a guest from Episode 9, where we introduced what occupational therapy is. Many conversations about occupational therapy tend to be broad, so let’s dig into one area of impact it can have on picky eaters and their families.


Show Notes:

[2:12] – Many conversations about occupational therapy are very broad and generalized. But picky eating is Dr. Bendetson’s area of expertise.

[3:21] – Picky eating is very common and there is no universal definition of what it means.

[4:36] – Food and mealtime are complicated. There are so many things that could cause picky eating and can shift day to day.

[6:07] – There are a lot of cultural aspects to this as well.

[7:30] – For some children there are really only a few foods they will eat. Ellie works with many families like this and starts where they are. Picky eating is isolating.

[9:11] – Early experiences play a key role. What are some factors that impact picky eating?

[10:27] – Body awareness plays a role as well and for children with sensory processing issues, this is even more of a challenge.

[12:30] – During an assessment, feeding is broken down into every little step.

[14:30] – It’s shown that supporting the parents and families around picky eaters is so crucial.

[16:41] – There’s an emotional connection and cultural importance put on food.

[17:38] – Dr. Ellie describes her program Making Mealtimes Matter.

[19:20] – Parents being able to help each other is so empowering.

[20:52] – The goal isn’t to be able to eat everything. It is to be healthy and have a healthy relationship with food.

[22:20] – Starting out by playing with food is a great place to start. This allows a child to understand the food.

[24:03] – What can parents model?

[26:17] – Getting a child involved in cooking and preparing foods is a great way to get kids excited about food.

[28:49] – Parent groups with Hiller Therapy are virtual. Other programs are in-person.


About Our Guests:

Dr. Ellie Bendetson

Dr. Ellie Bendetson, OTD, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist in Los Angeles. Ellie attended the University of Southern California, graduating with her bachelors in OT in 2019, her masters in 2020, and her doctorate in 2021. She completed her doctoral residency at Hiller Therapy | Outdoor OT, specializing in parent education and picky eating. She also holds certifications in sensory integration and the sequential-oral-sensory (SOS) approach to feeding. She is passionate about working with families to better their mealtime experience and working with children of all ages and abilities in supporting their growth at home, at school, and at play. When she's not working, Ellie enjoys hiking, baking, and playing with her dogs.


Leah Hiller

Leah Hiller is a pediatric occupational therapist, an educational consultant, and a former Jewish day school teacher. Leah provides teachers and parents with the strategies, support, and evidence-based resources to help children thrive at home, school, and play. In addition to providing individualized OT services in her private practice, Leah offers workshops for parents and educators, and she teaches graduate courses in special education. Leah lives here in Los Angeles with her family, and her OT therapy studio is located in a natural setting – her backyard.


Connect with Our Guests:

Links and Related Resources:


Trying to figure out next steps in supporting your child?  Book a 1:1 consultation with Dr. Karen Wilson – https://www.childnexus.com/consultation 

Join our email list so that you can receive information about upcoming webinars – ChildNEXUS.com

The Diverse Thinking Different Learning podcast is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or legal advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed by the host and guests are not considered treatment and do not necessarily reflect those of ChildNEXUS, Inc or the host, Dr. Karen Wilson.