Picky Eaters versus Problem Feeders: When to Seek an Evaluation

Picky eating is a hot topic in the news and on social media. From the Huffington Post to the BBC, it is a current affair. However, what is not often discussed is when it is really necessary to seek an evaluation from a professional about your child’s picky eating.  According to Dr. Kay Toomey of the STAR Institute in Denver, Colorado (co-founder of the SOS Approach to Feeding program) there is a difference between “picky eaters” and “problem feeders.” Dr. Toomey cites distinguishing factors that can help parents and caregivers decide when to seek a professional evaluation and subsequent therapy. The following indicators are laid out for picky eaters versus problem feeders:


Decreased range of foods (but will eat at least 30 different foods)

Any food that has been lost will be regained after a 2 week break

Able to tolerate new foods on a plate, will usually touch or maybe even taste a new food

Eats at least one food from each food group (fruits, vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates/starches) and texture

May eat a different set of foods at a meal than the rest of the family


Eats less than 20 different foods

Foods that were lost are not re-acquired

Does not tolerate a new food being presented, complete refusal

Refuses an entire category of foods (no vegetables, no meats – outside of a family being vegetarian/vegan)

Always eats different foods at a family meal

If your child meets the criteria under the “problem feeders” section, it may be time to seek out a professional for a feeding evaluation and subsequent treatment.  Our Mealtime Management program focuses on helping your child- and your whole family- learn skills essential for mealtime success!

Toomey, Kay, A. (2000, 2010). “Picky Eaters Versus Problem Feeders.”Toomey@starcenter.us

BBC ‘Fussy Eating Toddlers Not The Fault of Parents.” October  14, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-37642587

Laufer-Cahana, Dr. Ayala. Huffington Post: “What To Do About Your Picky Eaters Around the Holidays.”   Novermber 23, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ayala-laufercahana-md/what-to-do-about-your-pic_b_13130750.html

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