child staring at food, is she a picky eater or problem feeder?


Help! My child is a picky eater!

It's common for kids to be picky eaters. As toddlers become more independent, it's natural for them to develop food likes and dislikes. As parents, we can be good role models, showing our kids healthy eating behaviors and nutritional choices. But, despite our best efforts, some children are simply picky eaters. 

Picky eater or problem feeder - what's the difference?

You may be dealing with two different issues when it comes to getting a child to eat. Let's start by clearing up how you can tell if your child is just picky and will grow out of it or if there's more going on and you may have a "problem feeder."

Picky eaters:

  • eat at least one food from all food groups
  • tolerate new foods on their plate and will reluctantly touch or taste a new food
  • may temporarily "burn out" and quit eating something they used to love, but will usually re-acquire a taste for it
  • eat with the family at mealtime, but may eat different foods.

Problem feeders:

  • usually eat fewer than 20 different foods
  • usually do not eat a food again once they burn out of it 
  • almost always eat different foods than the rest of your family
  • refuse entire categories of food textures or food groups
  • only eat certain food brands or are very specific about how food should be presented 
  • have difficulty moving from purée to solids or from a bottle/breast to solids.

Ideas for picky eaters 

  • Pick new foods that are similar to a food your child already eats. Raspberries are red and sweet like strawberries, but smaller! Carrots crunch like an apple! 
  • Encourage sitting down for meals as a family as much as possible. Have your child eat what the family is eating. Try the "one bite" rule. 
  • Make mealtime fun, but focus on the food. Have your daughter bring food to her lips and blow like "a whistle" or bite a carrot to see "who makes the biggest crunch?" 
  • Reinforce your child's positive behaviors. Say "nice try" or "you're such a healthy eater."
  • Use positive language such as "You can try a bite" vs. asking, "Can you try a bite?"
  • Include your picky eater when buying, growing, cooking and preparing food. Have your kid help you pick out the protein, starch, fruit and vegetables to fill their plate. For great ideas visit
  • Prevent a "food jag." It's hard when your already picky eater burns out on a favorite food. To prevent this, serve the favorite food less often, or try wheat bread instead of white, strawberry jelly instead of grape, crunchy peanut butter instead of creamy. 
  • Don't give up. Try again. The more exposure a child has with a food, and the more familiar they become with its taste and texture, the more likely they will, someday, eat it! 

Help for problem feeders

Children who are problem feeders may have a feeding barrier—such as an oral motor or oral sensory issue—and may benefit from feeding therapy provided by an occupational or speech therapist. If you've tried several strategies to increase your child's food repertoire with little success, discuss it with your pediatrician. A referral for feeding therapy can often make a big difference.


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