The Difference between a Picky Eater and a Problem Feeder

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The majority of parents are well aware of the term “picky eater,” but have not heard of the term “problem feeder.” The distinction between the two is important because one is a much more serious condition than the other. In this blog post, the team at Innovative Speech Language Pathology discusses the differences between picky eaters and problem feeders.

The Picky Eater

Picky eating is a common childhood occurrence. Many children go through a period in which they reject or avoid certain foods and have a preference for others. Picky eating is described as eating a decreased range or variety of foods. Picky eaters tend to have 30 or more foods in their food range. Children who are picky eaters also tend to eat at least one food from most or all nutrition groups. Picky eaters tend to be able to tolerate new foods on their plate. For instance, they may occasionally touch, smell or taste a new food, even if reluctantly. Picky eating can be addressed by parents at home using different coping and management strategies.

The Problem Feeder

While picky eating is often thought of as a normal aspect of childhood, problem feeding is not. Problem feeders have a restricted food range or variety foods that they choose to eat, typically less than 20 foods. Additionally, problem feeders usually cannot tolerate new foods on their plate. They may cry, scream or throw tantrums when a new food is presented and may refuse to touch, taste, smell and even look at it.

Unlike picky eaters, problem feeders may avoid certain food groups as a whole. For instance, a picky eater may refuse to eat broccoli while a problem feeder may refuse to eat all vegetables. Problem feeders may also avoid all foods of a certain texture or temperature (e.g., sticky or cold). These restrictions can lead to a slew of problems including malnutrition and eating disorders. They may also impair a child’s emotional or academic development. While picky eating can be managed by parents at home, problem feeding requires more intervention. Problem feeders often need extensive therapy from a multi-disciplinary team, one that may include an occupational therapist, speech therapist and/or nutritionist, depending on the child’s specific needs.

At Innovative Speech Language Pathology, our team of experts work with both picky eaters and problem feeders. We specialize in creating personalized treatment plans to help each child obtain healthy eating habits. To learn more about our services, please call Innovative Speech Language Pathology at (310) 659-9511.