When Does Picky Eating Become a Problem?

Mealtime can be such an enjoyable time for family and friends to come together. At home, the routine of skills needed for meal preparation, setting of a table, clearing and cleaning of dishes build responsibility and connectedness. At school, children gather and share in a more relaxed social time of their day. For some children though, feeding and eating is not enjoyable making mealtimes stressful for parents and children alike.

One thing to remember is about 50% of children experience some type of picky eating in their early years. Most kids grow out of their picky eating as many exposures to tastes, smells and textures occur over time. The key is exposure and exploration-it can take 20 ‘tries’ of one food-to have a child gain familiarity with the set of sensory properties aligned with that particular food. Don’t give up! Try different preparations of familiar foods. Add different toppings and dips for kids to try with their foods. Emphasize the taste, smell, look, feel and even sound of the food over how much your child needs to eat. This will help ease the pressure and stress of eating.
Feeding and eating are learned skills, complex skills at that. After the initial sucking and rooting reflexes subside, the skills needed for taking food from a spoon, drinking from a cup, biting and chewing, and moving food in the mouth are learned through experience and practice. Giving children the opportunity to safely explore and practice with foods is essential to their growing eating abilities. Once a child is familiar with purees, at around 8 months old start exploring with foods like puffs, graham crackers, or Baby Mum Mums. These are hard, dissolvable foods that can give chewing practice but melt in the mouth quite quickly. Other things to try are large, hard foods that the child can chew on without getting large pieces left in their mouths. Foods like large raw carrots, frozen pineapple cores or even food within a Fresh Food Feeder are good for chewing practice. These activities should ALWAYS be supervised and done with your child sitting upright in a chair.

For some children, mealtime struggles persist. When this happens, parents may consider seeking outside support. Talking with your pediatrician about the concerns you have with your child’s eating habits is always a good first step. If your child has difficulty swallowing, gaining weight, persistent problems with vomiting or issues with breathing and eating, a consult with the doctor or a medical specialist is recommended. Occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists are trained to help children learn all the necessary skills for feeding and eating. Babies and young children who are resisting the transition from liquids to solids, cannot move from bottle/breast feeding to cup drinking, or, challenged with chewing foods would benefit from an evaluation and treatment to uncover any underlying motor/sensory issue and work on learning to eat. Other children who would benefit from evaluation and treatment are those kids who: will not eat from entire food groups, are difficult for everyone to feed, and/or have fewer than 20 foods on their eating menu. If a family cannot find a way to have mealtimes without struggle, it may be time to consider the support of a therapist skilled in feeding therapy.

Helpful Links:

https://galvin-therapy-center.developmentchecklist.com/ – Our free online screener for kids 1-6 years of age

https://www.feedingmatters.org/resources-support/family-support/ A place to find information and connect with families supporting children with feeding disorders

www.mymunchbug.com Many valuable resources and free tools written by Speech-Language Pathologist and feeding expert, Melanie Potock

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