Is My Child's Picky Eating Normal?

Picky Eating Versus Extreme Picky Eating

Hear from Melanie Potock, Feeding Specialist

Picky eaters aren't all the same! Kids can become picky eaters as a part of their natural development and will outgrow this behavior - especially if you're practicing the Three E's. However, there are kids on the other side of the spectrum with more severe symptoms, restricting the number of foods he or she eats over several months, and as a result, slowing growth.

We partnered with Melanie Potock, feeding specialist and author, to help parents understand the differences between normal picky eating and extreme picky eating. After watching this video, be sure to check out other picky eater resources on our blog, including expert tips and recipe ideas.

Video Transcript

Picky eaters are not all the same. I know this because I am a pediatric feeding specialist.

My name is Melanie Potock. I work with lots of children and help them learn how to bite, chew and swallow all kinds of foods. I am 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 a part of their natural development. For this end of the spectrum, the “wait and see” approach can make sense. While frustrating for parents, these kids tend to outgrow or move past the behavior, especially if parents help them find a road to adventurous eating with a strategy like the 3 E’s: Expose, Explore and Expand. If you aren’t familiar with the 3 E’s, I encourage you to watch our YouTube video about it and learn more.

On the other end of the spectrum are extreme picky eaters. These are kids who have extreme aversions to food due to high anxiety, medical reasons, or a heightened sensitivity to food taste, temperatures, textures, sights or smells.

I am here today with Healthy Height to help parents understand the difference.

Oftentimes, parents of picky eaters experience the same set of symptoms, but the difference for parents with an extreme picky eater is those symptoms are much more intense and last longer than the natural phase of picky eating kids go through as toddlers.

An extreme picky eater is a child that has restricted the nutritional category or 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.

Extreme picky eating is 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 that it hurts.

The reasons for this vary from child to child.

It may be due to a child’s physiology or sensory system. For example, a child with gastroesophageal reflux disease may learn early on that eating hurts. In order to protect her body, she develops an extreme aversion to food, limiting herself to only the foods that quickly satisfy her hunger, because all foods cause her pain. These kids rarely eat for pleasure, or they learn to limit their favorite foods to only those that make them feel safe from pain.

Even infants who have trouble breast or bottle feeding learn early on that eating isn’t easy or comfortable. It’s not a pleasurable experience — it’s just something they have to do to satisfy hunger. Those little babes will learn to eat small amounts of food every time their hunger becomes too much to bear, and then, they stop before actually filling their bellies. They eat just enough to squelch the hunger. This can impact their growth because they aren’t getting enough nutrition to thrive. That same pattern can continue when a child is introduced to solid foods.

Kids can also develop pediatric eating disorders. In fact, feeding disorders impact at least 25 percent of typically developing children. For children with special needs, the rate is even higher. Eighty percent 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 lot of stress. It’s normal for a child to turn her nose at a meal she’s never tried before, but you might want to pay attention if she’s always anxious or upset at the thought of having to try a new food.

Another sign may be if your child’s diet consists of a small number of safe foods and you’ve given up offering other options. This could be a sign of a food-related anxiety, that certain foods are causing your child physical discomfort, or that your child has not developed the oral motor skill to safely bite, chew and swallow more advanced foods.

If a child gags a lot! Do you find yourself presenting safe foods, that won’t elicit a gag or worse, vomiting? There are a number of reasons a child can have gagging or vomiting issues from a food intolerance, an allergy or a structural issue in the GI system.

If your child consistently has a meltdown or major tantrum when he is gently encouraged to interact with a new 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 it’s time to talk to a professional.

If you are concerned your child may be an extreme picky eater, it’s important you seek professional help. You can ask your child’s pediatrician to refer your child for a feeding evaluation.

This is important because an extreme picky eater cannot make improvements without intervention. While you can encourage your child to make positive relationships with new foods through the 3 E’s, it’s also important your child has the support of a professionals so your family can get back to happier, healthier mealtimes for everyone.

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