If you have a picky eater then I’m sure you’ve heard your child’s picky eating is “just a phase and will pass”. However, for most picky eaters it doesn’t pass and often snowballs into something worse. Here I’ll help you identify if your child’s picky eating has gone too far and what to do if it has.
What Does The Typical Picky Eating Phase Look Like
As a pediatric feeding therapist I’m here to tell you that all children go through a typical picky eating stage. Around the ages of 1-2 you will see your toddler start to prefer certain foods and flavors. You will find that one day they will eat a lot and the next not so much.
You will also find that your toddler will eat one thing for a couple of days and then they don’t want it again for a few days. Also, your child may start to prefer their food presented in certain ways.
This is all a very much a part of typical feeding development in children. However, this stages passes.
Some signs that your child is going through a typical period of picky eating is listed below for you.
- Your toddler is a happy eater
- Your toddler appears to enjoy mealtimes
- Your toddler may eat a food one day and not the next but almost always goes back to eating that food
- Your toddler tries a variety of foods
- Your toddler eats food from every food group (including veggies and fruits-may only be 1 or two veggies and/or fruits but those food groups are included)
- Your toddler can start and finish a meal within 30 minutes.
Signs That Your Child’s Picky Eating Is Turning Into A Bigger Problem
For some parents it’s really hard to tell when you should seek help. Often, by the time parents come to me for feeding therapy the problem started long ago. It’s that now parents are so frustrated that they don’t know what else to do so you start searching and find help.
I want to give you some risk factors that can put your child at risk to become a picky eater. I also want to give you some signs that maybe it’s time to seek help for your little eater.
Risk Factors That May Put Your Child At Risk For Becoming A Picky Eater
- Complex medical history
- Difficulty with breast or bottle feeds
- Difficulty transitioning from breast to bottle
- Difficulty with transitioning from pureed foods to table foods
- Low muscle tone
- Difficulty with coordinating movements for chewing and swallowing
- Sensory processing difficulties (does not have to have a diagnosis but may show some red flags for sensory such as very sensitive to smells, textures, taste/flavors,and/or temperatures)
- History of reflux, constipation, and/or other stomach problems
- Gtube or NG fed (often these kiddos have difficulty regulating internal hunger and/or thirst cues therefore do not develop the same hunger cues as a typically developing eater would)
Signs That Your Child’s Picky Eating Is A Problem
- When you (parent) find yourself worrying about your child’s eating
- When you find yourself bribing, begging, negotiating, and pressuring your child to eat
- When you miss out on parties or gatherings because of your child’s eating
- When you avoid restaurants because you fear your child won’t eat anything there
- When you’re having to make a separate meal just so your child will eat
- When your child avoids food groups (ex: when your child won’t eat any protein or when your main food group is only carbs)
- When your child seems to only eat crunchy foods or only eats soft/mashable foods (ex: crunchy like chips/crackers or soft/mashable like puddings/applesauce/things that are very easy to chew)
- When your child becomes upset or angry when new foods are introduced
- When your child cannot try new foods and be okay with it
- When your child has other factors that play a role in eating (ex: reflux, constipation, congestion, frequently sick, respiratory issues, heart issues, tone issues, gross/fine motor delays)
- When your child becomes upset about smells, tastes, textures of foods
- If you notice your child prefers to drink his meals rather than eat his meals
- If you feel your child can go really long periods without eating and be okay with that
What To Do If Your Child Needs Help From A Feeding Therapist
You can contact your pediatrician to request a referral to a local OT (Occupational Therapist) or Speech-Language Pathologist. Just make sure that your provider focuses on feeding delays/disorders and has experience and knowledge about feeding/swallowing delays/disorders and picky eating.
You can also contact local providers too. Word of mouth is often the best referral. Many cities have facebook groups for Moms for recommendations/referrals for things like this. Don’t be afraid to post in one of those groups to ask for referrals for providers as well. Once you call a local provider they can run through insurance and contact your pediatrician for a prescription.
What Do You Do If Your Pediatrician Says Your Child Will Grow Out Of Picky Eating
I always, always tell parents that I work with to trust your gut. You know your child best. You are with your child the most. Almost always parents have a gut instinct that something is just not quite right. If you can check off one or more of the signs above then it may be time to start looking for help.
It’s okay to contact a local therapy provider yourself. It’s also okay to go to another pediatrician for a second opinion. If your child sees other specialists then ask them for a referral as well. You are your biggest advocate for your child. Always remember that.
What Other Providers Help With Picky Eating
Picky eating is a beast. I said that about four years ago when I was in the trenches with one of my own kids. Picky eating has a range from typical to extreme and it does not discriminate. There are many layers to picky eating that must be identified and slowly addressed to make the best progress.
Often there are components that have not been identified so that’s one of the first parts to helping your child.
But the good news is that with the proper foundation skills, you and your child can begin to move forward with eating more variety and enjoying meals again.
Some professionals that you and your child may work with could include but are not limited to:
- Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist (that focuses on feeding)
- Pediatric Occupational Therapist (that focuses on feeding and sensory processing is a plus too)
- Behavioral Psychologist
How Long Can You Expect This To Last
Well, this is such an open question and hard to give an exact answer. What I can tell you is that all kids are different and are at different parts in the process by the time they seek help. Typically, by the time a parent comes to me for feeding therapy the problem started a long time ago. Honestly, it can start as early as breast or bottle feeding.
With the right foundation skills, caregiver education and follow through, and a patient/ trusting/knowledgeable therapist, kids can begin to make progress.
If you are reading this then you are already taking the first step to helping your child. Below are two books that I love and recommend for helping your child become a healthy, happy eater.
Affiliate links used above. There is no cost to you to use the links.
If you found this post helpful then hop on over to read this post HERE that will help you identify why kids don’t eat and how to help them.