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Picky Eaters vs. Feeding Problems

As a parent, having your child getting nutrients and eating is a crucial part of their lives. A lot of children are picky eaters and that can be very difficult to deal with. It can be very emotional for a parent when their child isn’t eating their food. If you add a child that has special needs to that, mealtime can be overwhelming. Some children do have feeding problems and this should not be confused with them being a picky eater. Most children with feeding problems start as newborns.

picky eatersAccording to Kim Marino, a speech therapist and host of a blog called “The Speech Mama,” your newborn may have reflux or feeding problems if he is screaming during feeding, has difficulty eating, seems uncomfortable during or after a feeding, cries frequently or after burping, is more of a grazer than having a full bottle or spits up frequently (but may have silent reflux and does not spit up). If he seems to want to eat, then you put the nipple in his mouth and he turns his head, cries and becomes hard to calm, arches his back and/or stiffens his body, these may all be signs of reflux or feeding disorders. If this is the case, you need to see your pediatrician. You may also need to see a pediatric gastro-entomologist. However, most children just take time to grow into their eating habits and take a while to enjoy a full range of food. Most children get plenty of nutrients in their diets over the course of a week. Here are some tips to help with a picky eater:

1. Show consideration for your child’s appetite — Don’t force food on your child. If your child isn’t hungry, that’s OK. They will let you know when they are. Also, forcing children to eat can cause anxiety and frustration associated with meal times and this can worsen the problem.

2. Stick to a schedule — A schedule is always a good way to get your children on track.

3. New foods can be scary! — Children develop taste buds at different times and some things just don’t taste good to them at a certain age. New textures, smells or shapes may intrigue your child to play with their food and this is OK. Serve new foods along with their favorite foods to slowly introduce new items.

4. Make food fun — Like anybody would, if it’s fun, they will enjoy it and probably eat it. Serve fun shapes and colors and even breakfast for dinner!

5. Let your child choose the menu — For those children that are old enough, have them help you at the grocery store with fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. At home, include them in preparing the food.

6. Set an example — Eat a variety of new and healthy foods and, most likely, your child will follow you.

7. Turn off the world — Try to make meal time a quiet time. Turn off the television and let your child really enjoy their food.

8. You’re not a restaurant — You serve one meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t take separate orders (especially for older children who don’t have specific dietary needs). Have your child sit at the table, even if they don’t eat their food; more often than not, they will eventually eat.

9. Your child will not starve — Going to bed without supper never made any child starve to death. They will realize they don’t like that feeling and eat the next day. This shows that there aren’t arguments or fuss about what to eat.

Some of these tips may not work, especially if your child has feeding problems that are not just “picky eating” issues or if your child has special dietary needs. If you’re concerned for your child or feel they are not getting the proper nutrients, then see your pediatrician. It’s important to look at your children’s nutrition over the course of a week rather than a day. Most weeks will even out.


Adapted by Kimberly Foschi, M.S. EDU

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Founded by Christina Bellini-Zaher, MS, OTR/L, The Therapy Center for Children is a "placement agency" composed of licensed and experienced pediatric physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and special educators.

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