When Should I Worry About My Child’s Picky Eating?

Promoted by Piedmont Regional & Oral-Motor Clinic, LLC


Spend some time with a toddler and you will more than likely observe picky eating.  Picky eating peaks around one year of age when toddlers are gaining more control over their environment.  Picky eating can go beyond the toddler years into the teenage years and even into adulthood.

How do you know when it’s just a phase or if it’s something more serious?

See the chart below to help guide you:

Nutrition in a growing child is usually used by the body in the following order: 1. for brain development, 2. For growth in length (height), and 3. for growth in weight.  If your child is losing weight or not growing in length (height), it is time to seek help.

First, follow your pediatrician’s recommendations for your child’s overall health.  Second, know what other professionals can help you with your picky eater or problem eater.  Problem eating and picky eating can be treated by occupational therapists or speech/language pathologists trained in feeding difficulties and disorders.  Nutritionists are also helpful in determining if your child is eating the right number of calories and varieties of foods for optimal health. Sometimes a counselor or psychologist is needed when eating difficulties have an emotional or trauma trigger.  Medical teams are needed to address any underlying medical issues for some children.  Third, find ways that you can help your child improve their eating habits.  We have included a few ideas for you to try.

10 ways you can help your picky eater:

  1. Offer a variety of foods at each meal without the pressure of eating all of the foods.
  2. Avoid grazing throughout the day so that your child can experience a true hungry/full cycle (when children graze, they experience a dulled hunger).
  3. Never force feed a picky eater or problem eater. This usually makes them avoid that food even stronger.
  4. Try making foods fun, for example, painting with Jello using broccoli stems or creating robots out of carrot sticks and peanut butter with no pressure to eat them.
  5. Offer two preferred foods to one target food at each meal.
  6. Use peer power. Find one to two other children of the same age that like the food you want to work on, plan a meal, and let their positive vibes about the food rub off on your child.
  7. Plan a food exploration night once a month, where everyone in the family tries new foods (buffet style). Each family member gets to choose a new food for everyone else to try.  Be sure to let your picky eater choose a food for everyone to try.
  8. Read books about the target food to increase knowledge about the food. This should not be done at mealtimes.
  9. Have a special plate or fork for meals where new foods will be introduced. Maybe these are used only at dinner time.  Pick a time when your child is most alert, has minimal distractions, and is not in a hunger panic.  Eating new foods is a learning experience and it’s hard to do when all you can think about is how hungry you are!
  10. Create a target food chart. You can use stickers or checks to reward trying a new food on the chart.  You can have different levels of “trying” on the chart such as looking at the food without screaming/whining/complaining, allowing the food to be on your plate (without eating it), touching the food with your hands, lips, or tongue, licking the food, biting the food, and all the way up to eating the food!  Once all the food has been “tried” in some way, they can earn a trip to the park or some other fun place.

Above all, you know your child best.  Gain knowledge and empower yourself to help your child overcome picky eating or problem eating.  Seek help when you need it.  Good luck and happy mealtimes.

If you would like to discuss your child’s needs, you may call PRFC and speak with someone to determine if an evaluation by an occupational therapist or speech/language pathologist is needed.  434-799-7732