When Should You Worry about Your Kid’s Picky Eating?

When Should You Worry about Your Kid’s Picky Eating?

By Fraser Occupational Therapist and Feeding Clinic Mentor Laura Deering and Fraser Clinical Services Manager Valerie Olheiser • picky eating, picky eater, kids picky eating, feeding therapy, feeding issues, feeding problems, limited diet, kids limited diet • October 21, 2021

Many kids are picky about what they’ll eat. Chicken nuggets, hot dogs and buttered noodles are known as staples of kids’ diets for a reason. But for some kids, it’s more than just being picky.

Children may struggle with different food textures or refuse to eat certain foods because of the look, smell or taste. They can have a difficult time with self-feeding. Some kids have a hard time engaging during meals: they may not sit still long enough to consume more than a few bites. A children’s medical issues can also complicate mealtime.

Here are signs your child is having difficulty with feeding:

  • Crying, coughing, gagging or arching their body when eating or drinking
  • Putting too much food in their mouth
  • Difficulty chewing foods of different textures
  • Eating less than 20 different foods and/or avoiding a food group, like refusing all fruits, etc.
  • Turning, pushing away or leaving the table when offered a non-preferred or new food
  • Resisting changes in mealtime routines like a new chair, room, utensils, cups, plates or bowls
  • Having difficulty with meals in different places, like home and school
  • Preferring to eat different food than the rest of the family, most of the time
  • Dining alone, rather than eating meals with the family
  • Gaining or losing weight gain, poor nutrition or feeding skills development, as identified by their pediatrician

When children struggle with feeding it can create stress for the whole family. Meals are more challenging because parents are making different meals for each person in the family. Parents may worry that their child isn’t getting enough nutrients because of the limited foods in their diet. 

Improper nutrition can cause serious problems

Lack of nutrients can cause impaired growth, tooth decay, malformed bones and obesity. It can negatively impact brain development. The CDC states, “Having low levels of iron during pregnancy and early childhood is associated with mental and behavioral delays in children.”

Not consuming enough calories or nutrients also means kids may lack the energy to participate in activities and play with their friends. Having less energy can also impact their ability to pay attention at school, which can lead to poor academic performance.

Try introducing new foods through play

One way to get your kids to try new foods is through play, says Fraser Occupational Therapist and Feeding Clinic Mentor Laura Deering.

You can try:

  • Using a cookie cutter to cut bread into a shape
  • Smelling a strawberry like it’s a flower
  • Stacking cucumbers into a tower
  • Painting with foods like applesauce or pudding
  • Using several types of food to create a face
  • Using carrot sticks or bell pepper sticks to make letters

However, if your child still won’t try new foods and you’re concerned they’re not getting enough nutrition, it may be time to take them for a feeding evaluation. Fraser offers feeding evaluations, which assess whether a child would benefit from feeding therapy. Fraser also provides feeding therapy through telehealth.

“We’ve been able to empower parents. I’ve heard things like, ‘My child licked a banana for the first time. My child tried cherries.’ That’s fun to hear — that families are using these strategies at home,” says Deering.

If you’d like to get your child evaluated, reach out to Fraser at 612-767-722 or email us at fraser@fraser.org.