Many kids have very limited range when it comes to food. This is particularly true of kids on the Autistic Spectrrum, but any kid can be a picky eater.
At one point in his life, my son would eat anything -provided it was cheese pizza- and drink anything -provided it was blue. (yes, blue. And clear).
I took him to the doctor, who referred me to a nutritionist, who spent a lot of fime carefully telling what he should eat (which I already knew), but could offer no constructive advice on how to get him to eat it. The best she could offer was "make a smiley face on his food". Like I hadn't tried that already! (And a train, a doggie... ad nauseum)
So I realized he only way to expand my son's range of acceptable foods was to figure something out fast. Below is the culmination of my experiments, in a "tips" format. Using these tips and rules, I now have a child who eats steak and sushi as well as vegatables.
Please note: If your child chokes or gags on food, please get professional help.
Tip #1: Forget old wives' tales.
"He'll eat when he is hungry" may not apply to our kids, who often have sensory issues and may not FEEL hunger in the same way as the old wives. Or they may feel it and not make the connection to eat! Either way, this rule does not apply, so discard it and follow your instinct.
Tip #2 Establish ground rules around eating and mealtimes:
This way everyone knows the expectations, boundaries and limitations. Rules may evolve with time. Here are some examples from my own house:
Rule #1 You don't get your treat unless you finish dinner. Finishing dinner does not mean cleaning your plate. Mom or Dad decides when you have eaten enough. We do this with concrete rules. Two more chicken nuggets then you are done. Three big spoons of peas, Four more green beans (for smaller kids who can't count; separate the required eating from the rest. This negates the need to define "some").
Rule #2: If there is a new food on your plate you must *try* it. "Trying it" means putting it in your mouth, and chewing it. If you don't like it, you may spit it into your napkin, take a drink, accept a lot of credit for trying and you don't have to eat any more of it (this is *very* important, as it establishes trust). If you try it and you *do* like it and eat it, we make a huge fuss of you and you may get an extra treat -providing you finish dinner per rule #1
Rule #3 (for parents) New foods are introduced one at a time, in very small quantities and together with loved and familiar foods. Initially a portion of vegetable may consist of three baby peas or sweet corn kernels. If the food is tasted and rejected, it is not presented again for several months (we periodically re-try). The following day we will not try a new food, but may try again in a few days. If a food is tried and accepted, we slowly build up the quantity over time, to the point where the kid will eat a complete portion of that new food, before we move on to the next new food. Slowly and steadily over time, the range will grow.
Tip #3 Condiments are OK.
My son went through a "drown everything with ketchup" phase. I figured that was OK as long as he ate the veggie, rice or whatever. Later I would work on reducing his ketchup intake. Over time, he gradually reduced it by himself, so now he eats those foods plain. A waitress in our (now sadly extinct) local diner told a story of a boy who used to get a hot dog and fries with a side of chocolate sauce. He would dip each bite of the regular food in the chocolate sauce, but he cleared his plate. I don't know if I personally would go that far, but I thought I'd put it out there that people do!
Tip #4 No condiments are OK too.
You may have the sauce/gravy on the side, or not at all. Some kids just can't stand sauce or gravy, and that's OK.
Tip #5 You (or Mom) may play with your food.
Sometimes the problem is not getting the kid to eat a food, but to consume enough food to constitute a meal. Again, I think a lot of this is peculiar to our kids who may not feel hunger in the regular way, or who may have other interests which override the desire to eat.
I have found the fastest way to get my daughter to scoff down broccoli is to have it 'run away' shrieking "Don't eat me! Pleeeeease". She takes rather perverse delight in grabbing it and munching it. She particularly likes it if I cut a word off midway. "Don't eat m...". I'll probably have to work on her Dark Side later, but for now, this works for both of us. For some bizarre reason, she also likes to have me make the food sing. (Actually, that is the only time she tolerates my singing!)
My son likes to name his food. "This is Fred. Now I'm eating Fred". Sometimes he'll act out a whole scenario where the other green beans (or whatever) look for "Fred" and wonder where "Fred" has gone (then he demonstrates and sends them to join Fred). I encourage this imaginative play. Happily, he has never named his food "Mom"...
Singing a song (1 bite after each line), or repeating a rhyme may work for some kids
Harness natural competitiveness: I am not ashamed to have my kids "race" to finish their peas, or gain bragging right on how may seconds (rare) they have consumed, or how much of a new food they have tried/eaten.
Tip #6 For food with flecks in it:
Introduce flecks slowly. Take an established staple, such as Mac & cheese and place ONE tiny piece of parsley on it (right on top, from whence it can easily be removed). See how the child reacts. If he or she freaks out, try moving the fleck to the side of the plate, or onto another plate and away to a point where preferably it may be seen and it is tolerated. Then slowly try to bring it back (over time, closer with each meal that contains the mac&cheese). If you get to the point where the child eats the favorite staple with a fleck, next time present it with a few more flecks, and so on until he or she will eat flecky mac&cheese. Then try to introduce a tiny piece of a new dish with flecks, per Rule #2.
Tip #7 Grow your own food, if possible.
If kids help with growing and caring for a fruit or vegetable, they are WAY more likely to eat it (it's not a guarantee, however).
Tip #8 Having your kids help in the kitchen may de-mystify some foods.
We started this with tacos. Kids could help by picking the tomatoes, putting out the condiments and prepared dishes, preparing the tacos shells for heating, grating cheese, etc. It is still the only way my daughter will eat ground beef (ground turkey works well too, by the way). The "no food touching" rule seems not to apply to tacos as I present everything at the table in a separate bowl or plate, and they construct the tacos themselves at the table. Yes, it's messy, but the table and the kids wipe clean.