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Picky Eating: More than Just a Phase?

  • Category: Pediatrics
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Allied Services Integrated Health
Picky Eating: More than Just a Phase?

Food and mealtimes can often be an enjoyable experience for children and their families. For some children, a reward or consequence is enough to ensure they are getting adequate nutrition and developing healthy eating habits. However, sometimes children can be “picky eaters” and a reward or punishment is not effective in getting them to eat a healthy variety of foods.

Causes of Picky Eating

Children can become picky eaters for several reasons. It can result from difficulty biting, chewing, and swallowing, medical conditions such as reflux that causes pain when eating, and sensitivity to the texture and flavor of foods. Children can also be simply overwhelmed by having someone else control what they eat.

Often, children who are picky eaters will only eat very specific foods, such as an exact brand and flavor of yogurt. This is known as food jagging. The child returns to the same food because they know exactly what to expect when they eat it. Offering a variety of flavors or brands can help reduce the possibility of a child becoming bored with that food or that food being unavailable and then not having a backup to eat.

Allowing children to try foods on their own time without expectations can be helpful. A child may be more willing to try a food if they feel that it doesn’t mean that then they have to eat it again. Placing snacks where they can explore and try them on their own can be helpful.

The goal of feeding a picky eater should be to try new foods and to keep food from starting a battle. Creating a pleasant, calm environment for meal times can help the child feel more comfortable and familiar with foods. Serving family-style meals, discussing the foods, and modeling eating the foods can also be helpful.

When Picky Eating is More than a Phase

As a parent, how do you know when your child's picky eating is more than just a phase? Picky eating can become problematic and may require intervention, especially if a child:

  • eats less than 20 foods
  • refuses entire categories of foods
  • has a strong reaction when new foods are presented
  • always eats the same few foods
  • almost always eats something different than the family

Feeding Therapy

Feeding therapy can be an option for children to help them overcome difficulties in tolerating a wide variety of foods. 

Allied Services’ John P. Moses Esq. Pediatric Centers, in partnership with AllOne Foundation & Charities, use a multidisciplinary approach that includes speech and occupational therapy to help children become more comfortable, tolerate a healthy diet, and participate in family and social meals.

 The goal is for children to become independently motivated and want to eat a healthy variety of foods. The therapy team will investigate what might contribute to picky eating to determine how best to help each child and their families create lifelong, healthy, happy eating habits.

About the Author: Karen S. Kile, MS OTR/L, works with Allied Services Scranton John P. Moses Esq patients. Pediatric Rehab Center.

Pediatric Rehab at Allied Services

The Pediatric Program helps each child by focusing on the child’s strengths and abilities in a supportive environment. he Pediatric Program seeks to enhance the quality of life for each child and adolescent, to promote a continuum of care from hospital to home, school, and community. We encourage parents and caregivers to participate in goal planning to help each child reach his or her highest potential.

To learn more about our picky eating program or other pediatric rehab services here.