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Is Your Child a “Picky Eater?”: How Occupational Therapy Can Help Your Child Become a Successful Eater

Is Your Child a “Picky Eater?”: How Occupational Therapy Can Help Your Child Become a Successful Eater

If you are familiar with pediatric occupational therapy (OT), the typical image is a clinician who is able to assist your child in their daily living activities. Whether it is assisting with fine motor skills to improve their performance in school, teaching strategies on how to dress themselves, improving their visual perceptual and motor skills to participate in sports and physical education, or rehabilitating a neuromuscular deficit, a pediatric OT is someone who can help your child live life to their fullest potential.

Picky Eaters vs Problem Feeders

What many people do not know is that pediatric OTs can also help your child who is typically identified as a “picky eater,” or more specifically, a “problem feeder.”

Picky eaters and problem feeders are a large population of patients seen at the pediatric outpatient centers at Allied Services. Picky eaters are typically identified as children having less than 30 foods that they consume regularly, have foods they often take breaks from eating too much of over an extended time period, eat at least one food from almost every nutritional class (proteins, vegetables/fruits, carbohydrates), tolerate new foods on their plate, and often eat a different set of foods than what is served at family mealtime.

A problem feeder is a child who typically eats less than 20 foods, “burns out” completely from foods due to eating too much of it, refuses to eat entire categories of foods, has tantrums or meltdowns when new food is presented, and eats meals separate from family meals. There is no clear answer as to how feeding deficits develop; however, most feeding issues are often a result from oral motor skill deficits, difficulty with sensory processing, deficits in posture and seating, or overall developmental delays related to feeding skill (Toomey, 2019).

When parents have difficulty feeding their children, they often describe feelings of failure, frustration, and overall, a diminished relationship with their child. The good news is that Allied Services has the resources to help you child become a functional eater again.

Picky Eaters Program at Allied Services

Allied Services Pediatrics offers the Picky Eaters program at our Scranton and Wilkes-Barre campuses where our occupational therapists assist with sensory modulation, oral motor skill development, improving variety and range of foods in diet, and building home programs to increase carry over in your mealtime routines. During feeding sessions, children will learn to interact with foods through various sensory input as well as what oral motor skills are needed to feel safe putting new foods in their mouths.

Our goal is to make eating a positive activity for children and their families as well as to build the skillset needed to make children functional eaters in their environments. If you are concerned with your child’s eating habits, visit SOS Approach to Feeding to assess your child’s eating behaviors and needs. 

About the Author: Jacqueline Strausser, MS, OTR/L, works with patients in Wilkes-Barre. Jacqueline received education in Vision by Dr. Jeffrey Becker of the Neurosensory Centers of Eastern PA to evaluate and treat patients with visual perceptual and motor deficits using the VTS4 and CPT programs (October 2021). She also completed the SOS: Approach to Feeding 4-day training course to be able to provide evaluation and treatment to patients with feeding disorders using the SOS treatment approach and framework as a Level 1 provider.

Getting started at Allied Services

The Pediatric Program at Allied Services provides comprehensive physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to children of all ages with a variety of diagnoses. Rehabilitation professionals partner with families to meet the needs of their children. Family education is ongoing, with emphasis on carry-over of newly acquired skills in the home environment.