When you have a picky eater on your hands, parents will try anything to get their child to eat! Between bribing, bargaining, and badgering- a family table quickly turns into a battlefield! Maybe you find yourself preparing one meal for your family and another for your picky eater. Maybe you are unable to have family meals anymore. Maybe you have waved the white flag and surrendered to making them peanut butter and jelly and Cheetos for the rest of their lives.
You’ve heard the advice from well-meaning family members and friends: “They’ll eat when they are hungry enough” (false), “They’ll get tired of chips eventually” (nope), “I never let my kid get up until they’re done! They’ll eat if they want to go play” (wrong again). The challenge you are facing with your child surpasses all the “advice” from parents whose children simply didn’t eat all their vegetables- your child seems to fall into a different category. Your child might have a feeding disorder.
The good news:
You are not alone! As a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and feeding specialist, and a former picky eater myself, I know how hard having a picky eater can be on the child’s family, and for the child themselves. Studies have varied findings for how common feeding disorders are in children, but can be anywhere from “[a]pproximately 20-50% of normally developing children, and 70-89% of children with developmental disabilities” (1). In fact, up to 90% of children with autism have feeding problems (2) and 70% of medically fragile children have feeding problems (3). But there is hope! And there is help!
The big question: What do I do?!
We know you have tried, and would try, everything to help your child get adequate nutrition that they need. Have you considered a feeding evaluation? Maybe there is an underlying disorder happening here – maybe they have a sensory processing disorder, or difficulty chewing or swallowing, or other physiological issue that has gone undiagnosed so far, or something else, that is leading to their denial of all or some types of food. Following a pediatrician’s referral, a feeding evaluation can be completed by pediatric feeding specialists, usually an Occupational Therapist, Speech-Language Pathologist, and/or more professionals. The feeding therapy specialists will observe your child eating a variety of textures, and will look for signs of those underlying causes. With your input, the specialists will look for patterns in what they are currently eating, and create a plan to expand their diet. They will refer to appropriate doctors if necessary. Treatment will involve you, their parent, so that the child’s skills can be practiced in your home. After a few months of treatment, when the underlying difficulty has been addressed, and your child has more skills and confidence with eating, you will be able to reclaim dinnertime.
Allison Holecek, M.A., CCC-SLP
1. 2013. June 13. Banchaun Benjasuwantep, Suthida Chaithirayanon, and Monchutha Eiamudomkan. Feeding Problems in Healthy Young Children: Prevalence, Related Factors and Feeding Practices. Published online 2013 Jun 13. doi: 10.4081/pr.2013.e10
2. Volkert VM, Vaz PCM. Recent studies on feeding problems in children with autism. J Appl Behav Anal. 2010;43(1):155–159pmid:20808508
3. 2011 Fraker, Walbert Pre-Chaining and Food Chaining Course Educational Guide