Photo: Bigstock/LogotypeVector

Picky eaters vs. problem feeders

It’s not always easy to find healthy meals everyone will enjoy 

By Karen Kerr, registered holistic nutritional consultant

I have a picky eater in my family, so I get it. It can be frustrating. But it’s important to note that it’s typical for children to go through a phase of picky eating (generally in toddler years), and while some grow out of it quickly, others may take longer. And that’s OK.  

Think of it like reading skills. Each child develops at their own pace in their own time. Wishing your child will eat everything you eat is like giving them a Harry Potter book in Grade 1. Tastes develop. And the last thing you want is to turn the dinner table into a battlefield. 

Experts agree that begging, bribing or forcing kids to eat is counterproductive to creating a healthy attitude toward food. In fact, it can cause an increase in disordered thoughts, yo-yo dieting and attitudes around food in adulthood. 

Before I move on to tips, I must address what could be a more serious issue. There are “picky eaters” and there are “problem feeders.” A picky eater will generally eat between 20 to 30 food selections, and they might fuss at trying a new food but will often attempt it. They also typically have no problem with sitting down at the table with the rest of the family. A problem (sometimes called “aversive”) feeder has a very limited food diet, often won’t sit at the dinner table and will refuse to try new foods. About 20 to 30 per cent of children fall into the picky eaters category, while five per cent are problem feeders. 

Problem feeders will benefit from feeding interventions and therapy, so speak with your pediatrician to guide you to appropriate resources if you feel your child needs help or isn’t progressing.

Picky eating can also indicate underlying allergies, problems with oral motor skills and sensory processing issues with food that leads them to dislike certain textures and can even cause them to gag or vomit. This isn’t a straightforward issue. Trying different techniques and being patient is of the utmost importance. Also, give yourself grace; picky eating isn’t a parenting failure. It’s your individual child’s path. 

Sometimes I hear a parent brag, “Oh, my child eats everything!” That’s great, but please know that doesn’t mean they are a superior parent. Your child is just naturally drawn to different tastes (assuming they have no underlying sensitivities). 

Here are some of the tips and strategies that helped me:

• Lower expectations. It’s not a race to have your child love what you love

• Have set mealtimes and try not to snack before

• Serve dinner family style with some options they love but not a whole separate meal for them. When possible, give yourself a break, especially at holiday meals

• Be patient with introducing new foods but keep serving them too

• Try to resist commenting on their eating habits. Think “building a bridge,” not a wall for them to hide behind

If you know your child will feel embarrassed or shamed about their eating while visiting someone else’s home, try to have a conversation with the other adult first. Often well-meaning friends, grandparents and family members will negatively comment on a child’s eating habits, which can be harmful long-term. 

Lastly, while I always advocate whole foods first, supplementing with vitamins and minerals can bring you some peace of mind. Talk to your health provider about what your child might benefit from if their diet is limited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *