Picky eating vs. problem eating

Alison Dotzenrod

Kids can be picky when it comes to many things, the types of clothes they wear, the shows they want to watch on tv or what they want to eat. Sometimes the “pickiness” is more than just being picky it is problem eating. Feeding is an essential part of life and a variety of food is needed for healthy life. When a child is so picky with their eating that they do not get enough nutrition or not enough types of nutrition it will impact their health. 

Feeding issues can stem from many different causes. Some children do not develop the oral motor skills needed for eating different textures and types of foods. This can lead to choking or gagging on food that has not been chewed up enough to be swallowed correctly.  Some children are sensitive to an aspect of the food such as the texture, the taste, or the temperature of the food. Undiagnosed allergies can also lead to picky eating as the child realizes they are uncomfortable when they eat a certain food but are not able to tell us. 

There are some red flags a child may be more than just a picky eater.  A child who is not gaining weight or is losing weight is an indication of issues with nutrition.  A problem eater may have less than 20 different foods they will eat or less than 10 foods in a certain category (protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables). They may also “food jag” more frequently, which means they will only eat a certain food or certain type of foods, and when they get sick of these foods they do not ever pick them back up in their diet. It is not uncommon for a person to food jag, but most people if they become sick of the food will bring it back into the repertoire after a few weeks. A history of choking or gagging frequently on foods can also be a red flag for problem eating. These instances of choking or gagging can be very scary for a child and lead the child to limit foods to those they feel are safe for them to eat.

Another indication for problem feeding is the child is difficult to feed in different environments i.e. school, home, daycare, and meals times are a battle unless they are eating a preferred or safe food. 

Feeding issues can be worked on in speech and occupational therapy in our feeding program with our specially trained therapists. Here at OSPTI, we are able to evaluate children to see if feeding issues stem from an oral motor or sensory issue. We are then able to work with those children to help develop the skills needed to improve feeding along with working on direct feeding therapy with the children. 

If you have questions about your child’s feeding or are interested in an evaluation, please contact us at 218-641-7725.

Alison Dotzenrod, MS, OTR/L is with OSPTI — Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, Inc., has locations in Breckenridge and Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Fargo and Hankinson, North Dakota. More info at https://www.ospti.net/.

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