Williams, K. E., & Seiverling, L. (2018). Broccoli Boot Camp: Basic training for parents of selective eaters. Bethesda, Maryland: Woodbine House.

Reviewed by Sabrina Freeman, PhD and David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

A review of Broccoli Boot Camp

Broccoli Boot Camp

The book market is saturated with many titles on selective eating, written by people with good intentions who offer folk remedies. Broccoli Boot Camp is a book that differentiates itself by being a comprehensive and well laid out guide for the treatment of severe, selective eating. Although Broccoli Boot Camp is very detailed and precise, the book is an accessible, interesting read that uses case examples to illustrate the implementation of treatment plans. The goal of the book is to empower parents by providing them with the tools to change the health outcomes of their children, whose physical well-being may very well be compromised by a limited food repertoire. Nonetheless, professionals working with children with autism will also find this book to be a well-researched and informative resource.

Williams and Seiverling first describe the multi-faceted nature of the problem of food over-selectivity by providing several chapters on children with a variety of special needs, including autism including special considerations for underweight and overweight children. Four premises are discussed early on and highlighted throughout the book. These important considerations may very well determine whether your intervention efforts are successful and enduring:

  1. Tasting food, even in the smallest quantities, is a critically important step.
  2. Repeated introduction of the food may be needed in order to establish it as a preference.
  3. Selective eaters vary widely with respect to their resistance and the authors effectively highlight the difference between garden-variety, picky eating, and dangerous food selectivity. These differences present implications for how best to intervene.
  4. As families differ widely, interventions need to be developed and carried out in an individualized manner.

Next, they introduce five detailed, scientifically-supported plans, based on the principles of applied behavior analysis, to successfully tackle the issue of serious food over-selectivity.

  • Plan 1: A structured meal plan using modeling, praise, and free choice. This plan represents a less intrusive, easy-to-implement approach that can be carried out for a few weeks. The child’s reaction to this plan will inform future efforts that may involve carrying out one of the other plans.
  • Plan 2: The family meal. This plan places the locus of control on parents and may be best suited for children who already have a broad repertoire of food and are willing to taste other foods when requested.
  • Plan 3: Plate A – Plate B. This plan is a widely used approach and serves as an alternative to Plan 2. It relies on existing preferences to expand variety. The child is required to taste new foods and beverages before gaining access to preferred foods and beverages.
  • Plan 4: Taste sessions. This plan involves offering the child new foods. Tasting these foods is reinforced with a highly motivating item such as a toy or preferred food item.
  • Plan 5: Taste sessions with a required bite. In contrast to Plan 4, this plan involves exposing the child to the targeted food item until he or she actually takes a taste. Of course, this may be a hard plan to implement for many families.

The authors do a thorough job describing key intervention strategies such as planned ignoring, reinforcement systems including those using tokens, active modeling, appetite enhancement, and offering choice. Recommendations surrounding the cessation of ineffective strategies are also offered throughout (e.g., allowing the child to graze throughout the day).

Further, Drs. Williams and Seiverling include a chapter on hierarchical interventions, with strategies to avoid common obstacles when progressing from plan to plan. Finally, the authors provide helpful appendices that contain data sheets for use when implementing the treatment plan. The detailed plans above include reference to these sample data sheets to enable the tracking of progress.

Without professional guidance, clear goals, or consistency, parents are often unsuccessful in their attempts to tackle severe picky eating and may actually reinforce bad habits. Broccoli Boot Camp analyzes the nature of failed attempts and presents strategies to avoid future pitfalls. The chapter on older children will be helpful to those parents with adolescents who have not had the benefit of early intervention and have struggled with extreme food over-selectivity for a considerable number of years.

It is important to note that any family grappling with significant concerns about their child’s eating or nutrition should consult with their pediatrician or other medical provider. If you have a child afflicted with severe selective eating, this book will provide intervention suggestions fundamental to helping change the health trajectory of your child’s life.

Citation for this article:

Freeman, S., & Celiberti, D. (2019). [Review of the book Broccoli Boot Camp: Basic training for parents of selective eaters, by K. E. Williams & L. Seiverling]. Science in Autism Treatment, 16(3).

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