Fussy or Problem Eating

One in four parents of pre-schoolers report their child as being “fussy” and most parents take comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Fussy eating is not your fault, all children take time to learn to accept new foods and some children take even longer, just as some kid’s toilet train with ease and others continue to wet the bed for years. However fussy eating can also be prolonged and worsened by environment and behaviours of parents who limit food exposure once a food is rejected, cater to whatever the child wants and pressure kids to eat at mealtimes (even if it is done so lovingly).

When is fussy eating a concern and how to know if it is fussy eating or when it is a bigger problem?

1. Amount of foods eaten; Picky eaters will eat less than 30 foods whilst problem eaters will have less than 20 foods they consume regularly.

2. Range of textures; A picky eater will eat at least one food from each texture type (wet, soft, crunchy, chewy) whilst a problem eater will have a restricted range of textures.

3. Food jags; A picky eater may stop eating a food they love but re-accept it over time whilst a problem eater will stop eating a food and never accept that food again.

4. New Foods accepted; A picky eater will sometimes touch and taste new foods whilst a problem eater will never accept or tolerate new foods

5. Amount of exposure; A picky eater will try or accept a new food after 15-25 exposures (on average) whilst a problem eater will not accept a new food until well over 25 exposures.

If you have identified your child as a problem eater based off this list, this means that your child is less likely to “grown out” of their restricted eating on their own and you would be encouraged to seek the assistance of a professional such as a paediatric dietitian, occupational therapist or speech pathologist (or all 3) for professional assistance to investigate potential oral motor conditions, safe swallow, gross and fine motor skills, adequate food variety- appropriate textures, nutrients, growth and sensory processing skills.

Both picky and fussy eating can require the assistance of a dietitian or health professional to help kids meet their nutritional requirements, increase food acceptance and especially to keep mealtimes peaceful and reduce stress around eating for your family.

Written By: Caitlin Mannion

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