My Child Eats Fine… They are Just Picky!

This is the first thing most parents say when I walk into a home for a feeding evaluation. Most people assume that feeding issues occur only in children with a developmental delay, problems with gaining weight, or some type of physical/mental disability. While this is typically true, as a speech-language pathologist I have discovered that many typically developing children may in fact have severe food aversions.

What is a picky eater?

Simply put, a picky eater is a child that is very selective about what they will eat. One of my favorite feeding books, Food Chaining: The Proven Six-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet, describes picky eaters as children who will usually eat 30 or more different foods, and will want to eat certain foods for many days at a time. Toddlers, anyone?! They are the kings/queens of picky eaters, going days at a time only wanting chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. A few days go by and they eventually get tired of eating that particular food, and move on to something else. Sometimes you even find that they suddenly refuse a food that used to be a favorite! (A tactic I am sure they invent only to drive their mothers crazy!)  However, when that particular food is presented again at a later date, they will usually accept the food without an issue. These children may not have an obvious medical condition but may have contributing factors leading to their pickiness, such as food allergies or acid reflux.

What is a problem feeder?

A problem feeder is a child who eats 20 different foods or less, sometimes only a handful of different foods. These children may have a strong reaction to foods they dislike, such as crying, throwing tantrums, gagging, and vomiting. They may even reject entire food groups, such as not eating any fruits or vegetables at all. Meal times for the family of a problem feeder are stressful and exhausting experiences. Problem feeders may have some type of medical condition such as a sensory processing disorder, autism, delays in oral motor skills preventing them from eating certain foods, and/or acid reflux, to name a few.

How do I tell the difference, and what do I do about it?

If you find that your child is exhibiting characteristics listed above, then you may be looking at a problem feeder. So, as a parent, what is next? You should seek the help of a speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist will be able perform a feeding evaluation for your child, letting you know exactly what is going on and help you put a plan in place for feeding success. If you have any concerns with your child’s feeding ability, development, and/or progress, please contact Sidekick Therapy Partners at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. Meal times should be an enjoyable experience for all family members, and we are eager to work with any family to help achieve this goal.

--Chariti Skinner M.S. CCC-SLP

Reference: Fraker, C., Fishbein, M., Cox, S., & Walbert, L. (2007). Food chaining: The proven 6-step plan to stop picky eating, solve feeding problems, and expand your child’s diet. New York: Marlowe & Company.