Picky/fussy eating can be a normal part of childhood development. Starting around 15-18 months of age when your little one is beginning to develop a greater sense of autonomy and lasting through the toddler years. During this period children may refuse foods, frequently change their preferences and/or eat limited amounts or varieties of foods at certain times (Wolstenholme et al, 2020).
There is a huge spectrum of “picky-eating” that ranges from children who are selective about their food choices e.g. they may refuse certain vegatables and/or they may love something you make one day and out-right refuse it the next; To children who may gag at the sight of certain foods and/or eat a highly restricted range of foods that seems to be increasingly decreasing!
As well as this spectrum in presentation, there is also a wide range of terms used by parents and professionals to describe the different types of picky eating. You may have heard terms like “problem eater”, “fussy feeder”, “extreme picky eater”, “food phobia” “food neophobia” and more recently “ARFID” (Avoidant/Restrictive Feeding Intake Disorder). Similarly, there can also be a huge range of underlying reasons WHY picky eating might be occurring from gastrointestinal discomfort to oral motor difficulties to sensory processing issues!
The important distinction to make is whether the signs you are seeing are related to a normal (albeit frustrating) stage of typical development or if a more extreme food aversion is at play.
For those children with more extreme food aversion, the long term impact to the child’s relationship with food, their nutritional intake and growth and the stresses to daily family life can be HUGE. If you feel you have tried EVERYTHING to get your child to eat and if you feel that mealtimes are becoming an increasing battle then the “general” feeding strategies, oftne given by well meaning friends and relatives, may not apply to your child.
If your gut is telling you that the “wait it out” and “leave them long enough and they will eat it” strategies are not the right approach, then you’re probably right! For kiddos with more extreme fussy eating behaviours this “well intentioned” advice from onlookers can often be damaging in the long term! It can (at times) work for children with more transitional picky eating; But even then it can set up patterns within the feeding relationship, between parent and child, that can cause issues later down the track.
We all know an adult that cant face a certain food because they were FORCED to eat it as a child don’t we!
Signs that selective eating is more than just a developmental phase include:
- Eating a restricted range of foods – less than 20 different types.
- A gradual decrease in the range of foods eaten – preferred foods slipping off the accepted foods list and staying off the list.
- Refusal of entire food groups e.g. dairy, grains.
- Eating different foods to the ones served for the family meal. This might also need to be served at a different time or in a different place.
- Picky eating behaviours may have been present for a long period of time.
This evidence based 10 minute questionnaire from Feeding Matters can be used to identify if your concerns about your child’s eating and drinking would benefit from further investigation:
If you have concerns about your child’s picky/fussy eating behaviours and you would like the support of a professional feeding therapist please get in touch here for a free 15 minute consultation. We can discuss the supports and a plan that can be offered to make mealtimes more enjoyable for all the family.
Wolstenholme, Hazel, Colette Kelly, Marita Hennessy, and Caroline Heary. 2020. “Childhood Fussy/Picky Eating Behaviours: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of Qualitative Studies.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 17 (1): 2. doi: 10.1186/s12966-019-0899-x.