We’ve all heard it. Your child will become a picky eater when they become a toddler and then grow out of it later. It’s a phase all children go through, and it’s normal.
But that’s not true.
It is true that most children will go through a picky phase and with consistent and supportive feeding they will grow out of it.
But some children experience extreme pickiness which is caused by underlying issues such as an oral-motor delay or a sensory integration dysfunction. These children are not merely being demanding or picky about their limited food selections and will need additional help and therapy to accept new foods.
So how can you tell a typical picky eater from a resistant eater (or problem feeder)?
Extremely limited food selection
While there is no official designation for a resistant eater, Kay Toomey (who developed the SOS approach to feeding) defines a problem feeder as someone who will eat only 20 foods or less.
A picky eater, in contrast, will usually have at least 30 foods which they will accept.
Limited Food Groups
A problem feeder will often reject whole categories of food textures or nutrition groups. This could mean they won’t eat anything crunchy or any vegetables.
A picky eater will often accept at least one food from all food textures or nutrition groups.
Anxiety over new foods
A problem feeder will have an extreme reaction when presented with new food. They may start crying, gag or become ill when this new food is present.
While a picky eater may not happily accept a new food, they can tolerate this food on the table or their plate without a reaction.
Loss of accepted food after a food jag
Your child is on a food jag when they insist on eating the same food in the same manner over a long period. These are common in younger children and will change up over time. Check out this post to learn more about them.
A problem feeder will lose one of their accepted foods after a food jag.
A picky eater, in contrast, may drop one of their accepted foods after a food jag for a week or two but will then allow that food again.
These issues above are common to resistant eaters. While not every resistant eater will exhibit all of the characteristics they should be considered as red flags. If you find that your picky eater sounds more like a problem feeder, then please have them evaluated. Resistant eating is not like picky eating. It is not something your child will grow out of over time. They will most likely need specialized therapy to overcome their food aversions.