Picky eating… When is it too picky?

Picky eating, YIKES, just the phrase gives me stress as a parent.  Even though I’m a speech language pathologist with interest, experience and training in feeding;  my children aren’t eating eel sushi and steamed greens for every meal.  While I feel we have persevered and they are relatively good eaters, nothing is ever perfect, and they both have pockets of “pickiness”;  let’s be honest, we all do.  As an SLP who has always had a love and interest in pediatric feeding, I view feeding as a developmental process.  Picky eating really can be a minefield to navigate with children and the reality is that it is much more common than we think; in fact studies show that up to 25% of children will be considered picky eaters.

Most children will go through phases and many children would be classified as picky by their parents, but when is picky TOO picky.  Picky eating is generally a normal part of childhood, although very frustrating for us as parents!  The SOS Approach to Feeding, by Kay A. Toomey, has clearly defined when a child falls into picky eating and when they are problem feeders.  The distinction between “problem feeders” and “picky eaters” is important.   Problem feeders have more clinically significant problems than picky eaters and rarely make progress in their skills without help and intervention from professionals.  Typically picky eaters will respond to general “good” feeding advice and eventually broaden their feeding and eating without direct therapy. 

Unfortunately many problem feeders go without the help they deserve.  You may be told your child will grow out of it, or if you just do this one meal time change it will fix it.  The following is a list of signs that a child may be more than just a picky eater.  If a child is exhibiting numerous symptoms on the list it may be time to seek help. 

Signs that your child may be more than just a “picky eater”:

  • Never has mouthed on toys or chewed on found items
  • Has coughing or respiratory issues when feeding
  • Eats less than 20 foods and may drop foods out of repertoire
  • No strategies seem to work to get them to at least “try” something new
  • Constant coughing, choking and gagging during mealtimes
  • Mealtimes are constantly a struggle
  • Only eat when distracted by someone eg:  watching TV, iPad, parents singing
  • Food always has to be prepared a certain way in order for it to be accepted
  • Tantrums and meltdowns extreme or frequent around new foods
  • Parents report that everyone finds the child difficult to feed
  • Gags at the sight, smell, touch of foods
  • Avoids certain food groups or textures all together
  • Difficulty transitioning from breast/bottle onto purees, or off of purees onto more textures

Keep in mind these are just guidelines.  If you really think you are having issues you should access an evaluation to truly determine if there are concerns.  The following is a link to a questionnaire on the feeding matters website, to help you determine if you should seek help.  http://questionnaire.feedingmatters.org/questionnaire

The reasons behind picky eating can be complex and difficult to unravel, and no one solution fits all!  Mealtimes will always be tougher to navigate with some children verses others.  While there are no “quick fixes” there are some general things you can do right off the bat with your babies as you introduce solids that can help make eating a positive experience as your child grows.   If you’ve spent time Googling questions about starting your baby on foods, you know how confusing and contradictory all the different baby feeding advice can be.

In May we will be providing a “Starting to Eat” workshop.  Confidently and safely feed your baby with the support of a feeding expertWe will be providing good solid feeding advice to start on the road to eating success.  We will cover readiness for starting solids, positive feeding relationships, and good feeding equipment .  We will also review the signs or red flags of difficulties during this workshop.  Space is limited so please register early by emailing us or calling 306-540-5666. 

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