Is My Child’s Picky Eating Normal?

Picky eaters are not all the same

Picky eaters are not all the same. I know this because I'm a pediatric feeding specialist and a certified speechlanguage pathologist. My name is Melanie Potock. I work with lots of kids who have difficulty trying new foods. I help them learn to bite, chew, and swallow a variety of foods. 

I'm also the author of four parenting books on how to raise healthy, happy eaters. I want you to think of picky eating as a spectrum. On one end, you have kids who become picky eaters as part of their natural development. For this end of the spectrum that wait and see attitude, that might work just fine. 

While frustrating for parents, these kids tend to outgrow or move past the behavior, especially if parents intervene with strategies like the three E's. Expose, explore, expand. If you aren't familiar with the three E's, I encourage you to watch this YouTube video about it and learn more. 

Picky Eaters and Texture

Now, on the other end of the spectrum are the more extreme picky eaters. These are kids who have extreme aversions to food or a heightened sensitivity to food, textures, sights, and smells. I'm here today with Healthy height to help parents understand the difference. 

Oftentimes, parents of picky eaters experience the same set of symptoms. The difference for parents with an extreme picky eater is those symptoms are much more severe. An extreme picky eater is a child who has restricted the number of foods he or she will eat for several months. 

As a result, the child may be presenting with short stature or slow growth, and it's driven by a number of underlying causes that aren't always visible or obvious to parents. What an extreme picky eater is dealing with is that eating is hard or it hurts. The reasons for this vary from child to child. 

Picky Eating Can have an Underlying Cause

It may be due to a child's physiology or their sensory system. For example, a child with reflux disease may learn early on that eating hurts. In order to protect her body, she'll develop an extreme aversion to the foods that cause her pain. Kids can also develop pediatric feeding disorders. 

In fact, feeding disorders impact at least 25% of typically developing children. For those children with special needs, the rate is even higher. 80% may be diagnosed with a feeding disorder. Some signs of extreme picky eating include a child that's unable to take a taste of a new food without a significant amount of stress. 

It's typical for a lot of kids to turn up their nose and refuse something on their plate occasionally. If you find that your child frequently is very stressed over the presence of new food, that's something we want to take seriously. Another sign may be that your child's diet consists of just a small number of safe foods. 

What is Food Anxiety?

That can be a sign of food anxiety or that certain foods are causing your child physical discomfort. If your child gags every time he's presented with a new food, there are a number of reasons a child can have gagging or vomiting issues, or if your child has a meltdown or a tantrum when he's encouraged to eat or interact with another food. 

It's not strange for kids to have a tough time deciding what to eat, but if it's happening at every meal, it may be cause for concern. If your child's indecisiveness is interfering with your daily life, it may be a sign that it's time to talk to a professional.

If you're concerned that your child might be an extremely picky eater, be sure to get professional help. Talk to your pediatrician. Explain the level of stress that this is bringing to your family, and they will refer you to a ceding evaluation. 

This is important because an extreme faith eater can't make improvements without intervention. While you can definitely encourage your child to have positive relationships around food using the three E's, it's also important that your child has the support of a professional so your family can get back to happier meal times for everyone. 

If you think you might have an extreme pig eater, please know that there is help. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician. My name is Melanie Potock, and I've made this my life's work. I hope your family has happy and healthy meal times in the days ahead.