A parent-friendly guide to figuring out your child’s picky eating habits.
As a pediatric feeding specialist, I have heard the same concern voiced many times: “My child just won’t eat, and I don’t know if it is normal or not!” Stressed-out families have approached me countlessly asking if what they are going through is typical or not. To confuse the issue, parents have been told conflicting advice by well-meaning relatives and medical professionals: “He will just grow out of it.” or “Give him a supplement for a while, and things will turn around.” While the advice comes from a good place, sometimes this does more harm than good. Parents become confused, and anxiety levels rise. Before you know it, every meal is a meltdown! With three meals a day, snacks, busy lives, daycares, and multiple children, having a picky eater on your hands can be exhausting. Below, find tips from a Lake Nona feeding expert to help guide you through the world of picky eating and help you determine if your child needs professional help.
So, what is “normal” anyway?
- At about age two, most toddlers realize their independence and become somewhat “picky” with eating. This is normal! This may last until the preschool years.
- Many kids have preferences for certain foods, and they may not be the healthiest ones or the foods we pick for them. This is normal and not cause for concern.
- Lots of kids will have “bursts” of picky eating, but overall, there are a variety of foods they will eat.
- Although your toddler may resist certain foods, they might change what they like from day to day, are willing to try new foods, and have at least 20 different meals they are willing to eat.
- You can go to dinner as a family without packing a special meal for your child and without feeling significant anxiety.
- Your child may love mac and cheese for two weeks and then refuse it – that is normal for a 3-year-old!
- Your toddler is not eating like they used to, but they are growing well and not falling off of the growth chart. You are not in need of supplements to keep them growing.
People tell me he will just outgrow this. … When do I need to start worrying?
True picky eating is a cause for concern, and typically, the problem only gets bigger as the child gets bigger; it also gets harder to correct. Sometimes, there is even an underlying medical condition causing the issue that needs to get treated. Below, find tips to let you know when to stop waiting and start taking action:
- Your child gags on food or cannot progress from one texture to the next.
- Your toddler is restrictive with wanting certain foods out of certain containers or will only eat food of one color or brand.
- Your child is specific with the place he/she will eat.
- You are unable to go out to restaurants as a family since you cannot order off-menu.
- There is significant anxiety surrounding mealtimes.
- Your child is resisting an entire food group.
- Your doctor is concerned with your child’s weight gain.
- Things are going from bad to worse … and there does not appear to be an end in sight.
- Your child has less than about 20 foods that they will want to eat.
- Your child’s eating behaviors have limited your ability to attend family functions, school or daycare, or to travel.
So what do I do now?
There are many options out there to help your child be a successful eater. The key is knowing when to step in and get professional help. You can visit your pediatrician or see a gastroenterologist for a more detailed investigation of your child’s difficulties. From there, typically, a speech pathologist or occupational therapist specializing in feeding will assess and treat your child.
By Kelly Komisaruk, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Kelly is a feeding specialist and founder of pickyeatersonline.com, treating children with feeding disorders in Lake Nona. If you would like to ask her any questions regarding your child’s feeding concerns, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will be answering your questions in upcoming articles!