When Picky Eating is More Than Being Picky

When Picky Eating is More Than Being Picky

“She’s just a picky eater,” or “He’ll eat if he’s hungry.” Family members, friends and even doctors have the best of intentions when trying to shrug off restricted diets as a normal stage in child development. In truth, sometimes food refusals are normal, but often there is a deeper cause for a selective diet.

As a Speech-language pathologist, I hear this often, as SLPs are trained in treating feeding disorders. I evaluate a child’s jaw, lips, tongue and swallowing mechanism to determine whether there is a physical reason for his or her picky eating. Along with possible difficulties with the muscles or structures in the mouth, there may be sensory differences that cause children to experience foods in a negative way, leading to aversions. Sometimes children have food intolerances, GERD or allergies that may cause mealtimes to be unpleasant. Over the years, I’ve spotted these patterns and taught parents exercises, strategies and techniques that lead to a healthy and stress-free mealtime.

Parents who may be tempted to force their children to eat or have a gut feeling that something isn’t right may find support in scheduling a feeding evaluation with a licensed SLP. Below are some additional signs that therapy may be needed.
  • Shows preference for or completely avoids a certain textures, temperatures or colors of food. 
  • Eats less than 25 foods total.
  • Drinks most of his or her calories in milk or nutritional shakes.
  • Becomes anxious or cries at mealtimes.
  • Refuses to try anything new.
  • Eats only in a single, familiar setting.
  • Gags or chokes on foods.
  • Significant amounts of food fall out of your child’s mouth after the age of one.

An untreated feeding disorder can lead to nutritional deficiencies, poor weight gain, social challenges and a host of other complications. With proper treatment, these can be minimized or avoided and your child will never remember a day they didn’t like that macaroni and cheese or pizza! 

Your friends, family members and doctors are right. Every child is not going to like everything. My goal is for every child to know that, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to try it!” and to feel confident that they will always know what to do with the food in their mouth, whether it’s one they like or one they don’t.

Julie Rockefeller is a Speech-Language Pathologist at North Carolina Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat. She sees patients in Cary and South Durham offices. Call 919-595-2000 to schedule an evaluation with Julie.

By Julie Rockefeller,M.S.,CCC-SLP