One of the basic jobs of a parent from the time their child is born is to make sure they are getting enough to eat. As a newborn this is based on amount of breast milk or formula they drink and we have a little more control of how much and when our babies eat. However, as these babies grow into opinionated toddlers and preschoolers, they develop little minds of their own and start choosing which foods they will eat and when. While this independence is a normal, exciting part of development, it can also make mealtime tougher. Over time this difficulty may become so hard that it impacts our children’s ability to get the necessary nutrition at important times for their developing bodies and more importantly…their developing brains! As feeding therapists, parents and pediatricians ask us all of the time: when does picky eating become a feeding disorder and how can we prevent that from happening?
Among children who are picky eaters about half will outgrow their picky eating within two to three years. Many toddlers experience a phase of picky eating when they need fewer calories at times when they are not growing as much. These phases should be just that…a phase and your child should start to eat more once their growing starts back up and they get hungry.
A smaller percentage (less than 10%) will have more serious feeding issues that impact their growth and nutrition and require feeding treatment. What are some things to look for to figure out if your child may be at risk for a feeding disorder? A limited variety of different foods they will eat. Will your child only eat very specific meals, such as chicken nuggets and French fries every night for dinner. Does your toddler/preschooler restrict the number of foods they will eat maybe based on texture/color or taste? Do they refuse the ‘right’ foods? If you try and introduce a new food do they get more upset than their peers? Do you notice a strong behavioral reaction when presented with new foods, such as gagging, spitting or throwing up? And most importantly, do they show poor weight gain?
Our feeding therapists are able to assess a child’s motor and sensory processing skills to determine if there is an underlying reason causing the feeding issues. As discussed in my blog post ‘Why Doesn’t My Toddler Want to Eat Real Food’ we will look at how your child uses their mouth to eat and what specific foods do they refuse that may overwhelm their sensory systems. Together we will come up with a systematic and individualized feeding plan to transition your child to eating more variety and more nutritional meals based on their current oral motor and sensory skills. We will also create a customized treatment plan to improve your child’s sensory and oral motor skills to allow even more food varieties. Contact our office for further information about our feeding therapy services.