Picky eater or problem eater?

Q: We think our son is a problem eater (versus just a picky eater) because he eats only 10 foods — at age 2! What can we do to help him?

A: You are not alone, despite almost all parents feeling like they are. Feeding challenges in children are common and affect approximately 20 percent of kids. The majority of this 20 percent are picky eaters. 

Picky eaters generally eat fewer than 30 foods and have some foods that they won’t try based on texture or smell or general principle. 

Problem eaters eat fewer than 20 foods and have whole categories of foods that they will not try. Problem eaters regularly need to have a whole different meal made for them that is different from what the rest of the family is eating. 

Problem eaters will avoid categories of foods to the point of malnutrition, poor weight gain or even weight loss. 

They may be rigid in the manner in which they eat; they may dislike it when different foods touch on their plates; and they may become exceedingly angry with any variations in the preparation of their food. 

This makes it very challenging for problem eaters to go out to dinner or go to a friend’s home for a sleepover or birthday party. 

While picky eaters just need time and encouragement to try to expand their diets, problem eaters often need professional help from a multidisciplinary feeding therapy team, including nutritionists, occupational or speech therapists, and psychologists, in order to improve. 

Please talk with your child’s doctor if you think your child is a problem eater. 

For all children, parents should start with an expectation that no separate meals will be made for children. 

Remember to make eating fun, colorful and enjoyable. 

Take your own negative emotions out of mealtime experiences, and your kids might be less resistant and more willing to try new foods.