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Picky Eater vs. Problem Feeder

picky eater vs problem feeder

By: Brenna Spellissy MS, OTR/L

Eating! We all like to eat and enjoy different tastes and textures. We like going to restaurants and socializing with friends. Eating is such an important part of our lives. So, what happens when your child has difficulty with eating and this fun engaging activity becomes a hassle with tantrums, tears, or worse yet, gagging or vomiting? Occupational Therapy can help food be fun and social again!

You might have a picky eater or a problem feeder on your hands. A picky eater is described as a child who may just eat a limited diet of preferred foods. This could be a result of a lack of exposure to various foods or a child just being a child and putting their foot down when it comes time to eating their fruits and veggies. With picky eaters, it is common for preferred foods to change, so don’t be alarmed if one day they randomly don’t want to eat chicken nuggets anymore!

A problem feeder can’t seem to stand the sight of the food. Just placing a new food item on their plate will make them have a meltdown and get physically sick. They have a very limited variety of the types of food they will consume. Typically, they prefer only one type of flavor or texture. Their diet will consist of less than 20 food items total. If you have concerns in regards to your child’s daily nutrition including struggles at mealtimes, limited intake of foods in different food groups, difficulty with chewing, or inability to progress to the next appropriate level of food stages, then please consider a feeding therapy evaluation. No matter if you have a picky eater or a problem feeder on your hands, it is important for all kiddos to have proper nutrition and a variety of foods in their daily diet! We all understand that a balanced diet is essential for a healthy life, growth, and development.

As Occupational Therapists, we focus on a variety of skills that surround feeding. Not only how to get the food or drink to their mouth for consumption but also the mechanics of how to chew and swallow properly. We can incorporate oral-motor activities and exercises along with sensory processing techniques to make eating food much more enjoyable and safer for your child!

Here are some simple strategies to begin thinking about how to make mealtimes more enjoyable in your home:

  • Play with the food, make it FUN! This is a wonderful way to expose them to sensory play!
  • Let the child have a sense of control of what they do and don’t like to eat. You can provide them with two choices that you approve of such as: Would you like apple sauce or a yogurt?
  • Serve a preferred and a non-preferred food item. For example, provide them with their favorite mac and cheese and 1 piece of broccoli.
  • Sit with your child during mealtime. Let them know it is a safe environment and that eating together is important to you!
  • Provide opportunities for them to help or participate in meal preparation. Make snacks together!

Here at Bayside Pediatric Therapy, we would love to be your partner in bringing families back together at the table! We want all kids to feel safe and enjoy eating! Let us help you feel confident in your daily mealtime routine! We want to be able to help each child find their independence in being a happy, healthy, and successful eater!

Nicole Yates
About the author

I have been working in the speech-language field since 2007. I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Florida in 2006, and my masters from University of South Florida in 2009. I have worked in the school system, hospital, independent clinic, and home health settings. I decided to leave the hospital to work for myself, because I was frustrated with the amount of children required for me to see daily. Starting my own company has allowed me time to adequately prepare for each of my patients so that I can serve them and their families in the best way possible. Every child is so different, and I can now give them the time they need. I myself was in speech therapy as a child and know what it feels like not to be understood. It is my passion to help every child reach their fullest potential in the area of communication. There is nothing more fulfilling than hearing a child tell their parents they love them for the first time! I would be grateful to be a part of your child’s journey.