What You Should Know About Picky Eater Kids

Is it normal for children to be picky eaters? Should I be worried? If you have a toddler or young child, you might be pondering these questions. But take comfort in knowing that if your little one seems to survive on a diet of fruits, crackers, and mac and cheese, you’re not alone!

Balancing your children’s nutritional needs with work, school, and everything else can be quite overwhelming. Let’s delve into the realm of picky eating, explore the potential benefits of feeding therapy, and discover effective ways to encourage your child to embrace new and exciting food experiences.

What is a picky eater?

Determining whether your child falls under the category of a picky eater can be discerned through their limited food preferences and reluctance to try new dishes. For instance, a picky eater tends to repetitively consume the same food while adamantly refusing any other culinary options.

Is it common for children to be selective eaters? Studies have revealed that up to 59% of kids can exhibit picky eating behaviors. That’s quite a substantial number! Selective eating is typically regarded as “developmentally appropriate,” meaning it’s a phase that many children go through, usually between the ages of 2 and 4 years.

If a child consumes less than 20 different foods, they are classified as “hyperselective.” Typically, children with normal development tend to become hyperselective between the ages of 5 and 7. A hyper-selective diet often consists of what is commonly referred to as “child’s food” – items like chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, and buttered pasta that are commonly found on kids’ menus.

When should you be concerned about picky eating?

While it is developmentally appropriate for children to exhibit certain behaviors at a particular age, challenges arise when a child displays a “fight or flight” response towards unfamiliar or less preferred foods. These responses may manifest as attempts to flee, hide, experience panic, or shut down. Such reactions indicate the presence of a sensory feeding issue, which may benefit from the expertise of a specialized speech-language pathologist for effective treatment.

While it is developmentally appropriate for children to exhibit certain behaviors at a particular age, challenges arise when a child displays a “fight or flight” response towards unfamiliar or less preferred foods. These responses may manifest as attempts to flee, hide, experience panic, or shut down. Such reactions indicate the presence of a sensory feeding issue, which may benefit from the expertise of a specialized speech-language pathologist for effective treatment.

What causes picky eating?

Did you know that a toddler’s growth rate significantly decreases after their second birthday? As a result, they tend to consume less food overall. Instead, they are more inclined to be content with smaller portions. So, that chicken nugget, a handful of Goldfish crackers, a piece of cheese, and a yogurt pouch they had today? It’s just the right amount to leave them perfectly satisfied.

Many children have an affinity for milk, but excessive consumption can diminish their appetite for solid food. Please encourage your child to avoid constant snacking or overindulging in milk so that they can approach mealtimes with a healthy hunger. Keep in mind, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, that children aged two and above should aim for a daily milk intake of 16 to 20 ounces.

Another important aspect to take into account is the presence of fear or anxiety when it comes to experimenting with new foods. Often, a child’s resistance to trying unfamiliar dishes can be attributed to various factors:

  • They are apprehensive about the taste and flavor of the food, as they are still determining how it will appeal to their palate.
  • Negative thoughts or memories associated with certain foods can create a reluctance to give them another chance.
  • Worries regarding potential health complications, such as allergies or digestive issues like constipation, are a cause for concern.

By recognizing and addressing these underlying worries, we can help children cultivate a more open and adventurous approach to food exploration.

Suppose a child is facing medical issues associated with a particular food. In that case, they may develop an aversion to consuming it.

Tips for encouraging your selective eater to expand their culinary horizons.

Support your picky eaters and encourage them to try new foods:

  • Offer preferred foods every other day to avoid burnout.
  • Make small changes to preferred foods, like altering shape or texture.
  • Create a positive food environment using supportive language.
  • Introduce unfamiliar or less favored foods in modest portions to encourage acceptance and openness to new flavors.
  • Encourage learning about food through descriptive language.
  • Use a “learning plate” or “all-done bowl” for non-preferred foods.
  • Get your child involved in creating a grocery list and shopping.

Learn more about these tips in this article.

When is therapy necessary for picky eaters?

If your child tends to be selective with their food choices, take solace in knowing that you are not alone. While picky eating can be considered a normal part of their development, it is crucial to recognize when seeking professional intervention becomes necessary.

Notice any of the following signs. It might be beneficial to reach out to a speech therapist for assistance:

  • Your child has a highly restricted diet, only consuming specific foods (e.g., solely McDonald’s chicken nuggets).
  • Your child consistently experiences panic or withdrawal when faced with unfamiliar or undesirable foods.
  • Your child frequently gags when attempting to try new or non-preferred foods.

Consulting a speech therapist can effectively address these concerns and positively contribute to your child’s holistic well-being.

Contact Speak Live Play Today!

Discover if your child would benefit from an evaluation by taking our simple online quiz on speech, language, and feeding.

Seeking treatment from a specialized speech therapist can profoundly impact your child’s relationship with food. These professionals provide invaluable support to children and families facing challenges in expanding their diet safely and respectfully.

If your child is a picky eater and you have concerns, it’s important to consult a speech therapist. Feeding therapy is specifically designed to assist children who struggle with eating. It offers personalized support tailored to your child’s individual needs. Remember, if your child is experiencing weight loss or if you’re concerned about their nutrition, make sure to consult your pediatrician. And if you’re in need of experienced therapists, don’t hesitate to reach out to Speak Live Play! They’re here to support you every step of the way.

Kieanne James Paco

Author Kieanne James Paco

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