We hear the term ‘picky eater’ and ‘fussy eater’ often. What exactly is a ‘picky eater’?
A picky eater is a person who eats a limited number of foods. If a child is eating less than 30 different foods, then they may be considered ‘picky’.
These children are unwilling to try new foods. This is definitely a red flag for picky eating. We expect children to be willing to try some new foods. They don’t have to like new foods, but they should have a try most of the time. Picky eaters usually refuse new foods – even if the parents know that they would probably like the new food.
Picky eaters have strong food preferences. They object to changes in familiar foods and voice their objection strong. Many parents end up cooking a meal that is different from what the rest of the family are eating. Parents report that it is exhausting to battle the restricted food choices every day.
Picky eaters also have strong opinions about:
- preparation methods – “I don’t like cooked beans. I only like them raw’
- how the food is presented – “Don’t mix my pasta with the sauce. I just want my pasta with nothing on it”
- the choice of food groups for the meal – “Don’t put any veggies on my plate. I just want chicken and chips”
Picky eaters often reject or limit whole food groups. Vegetables and meat are often rejected. Other children will reject all dairy foods. Some children will eat lots of vegetables but reject all meats. The food groups that are rejects or limited vary between children.
We don’t expect every child to love every food. However, we expect them to try new foods. That means that they pick it up, look at it, smell it, lick or take a bite. Picky eaters rarely try new foods. If you push them to try new foods, they quickly become very upset.
Meals usually take a long time for picky eaters. Most children usually eat their food within 20 minutes. Picky eaters take up to 45 minutes or an hour.
There are frequent struggles around food in the home. We know picky eaters are anxious about what food might be served. We also know that parents are anxious too. This usually leads to battles aroung food and mealtimes. I have never met a family in the YukToYum clinic who has said “We have no stress around food and meals with our picky eater”.
Despite the fact that parents are concerned about their child’s nutritional intake, most picky eaters fall into the normal weight range. In fact, some picky eaters are overweight. Especially picky eaters who like to eat lots of carbohydrates. There is a higher incidence of nutritional deficiencies. In particular, picky eaters can be deficient in iron. The more restricted a picky eaters’ food choices are, the higher the likelihood of nutritional and weight issues.
YukToYum is a feeding clinic in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Our team of feeding therapists are speech pathologists, occupational therapists and psychologists. We aim to turn picky eaters into adventurous eaters. If you are interested in learning more about our program, call us on (02) 80657837 or email us here.