Picky Eating and Problem Feeders: How Do I Get My Child to Eat a Balanced Diet?

Posted April 24, 2023 | Nutrition & Health Tips

It used to be that children ate the food that was put in front of them. They were expected to eat the same as everyone else at the table, whether they liked it or not. But today more and more parents struggle to get their children to eat, and food negotiations and mealtime stress are commonplace for many families. 

There has been a significant increase in food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, (think lactose, sucrose, fructose, and histamine). Along with these there has also been a rising number of children and adults diagnosed with autism, ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Frequently, food challenges and these diagnoses go hand in hand. 

As a nutritionist I would like to share strategies with you about how you can tackle picky eating at home as well as how to distinguish if your child is truly experiencing picky eating versus problem feeding. 

Picky eating includes the following:

  • Selective eating 
  • Prefers 10-20 different foods
  • Eats all of the food groups
  • Can be bribed or rewarded for eating well
  • Will add new foods to their diet
  • More open to eating problem foods if hungry

Extreme picky or problem feeding may include:

  • Eats less than 10 different foods
  • Extremely rigid eating habits (food arranged a specific way, no foods touching etc.)
  • Refusal to eat 
  • Missing entire food groups
  • Gagging, vomiting, refusal to sit at the table, crying, anxiety around food
  • Extreme sensitivity to taste and texture of food
  • Will stop eating foods previously accepted in the diet
  • Bribes and rewards do not work

What to do?

The truth is that most picky eaters eventually come around and will expand their horizons and try new foods. Additionally, they usually have just enough variety in their diet to get the nutrition that they need to continue to grow properly. 

Problem feeding on the other hand is a more complicated situation. Problem feeders often aren’t getting enough calories or diversity in their diet and need extra care and attention to ensure that they can get back on track. If you feel your child is experiencing a more complex feeding issue such as problem feeding, it’s important to share your concerns with their provider. They may benefit from working with a specialist. In addition to working with a nutritionist or therapist, here are a few approaches that you can try at home:

  • Offer new foods alongside preferred foods to reduce anxiety. 
  • Present new foods in small quantities or bites so you don’t overwhelm your child. 
  • Allow children to use their fingers to eat food if they prefer or struggle with utensils.
  • Let kids explore new foods by touching, smelling, and licking them if they refuse to eat them. 
  • Change the texture of the food offered. For example, shredded vs. sliced carrots.
  • Offer various temperatures of foods.
  • Explore food outside of mealtime by gardening, food play, visiting the grocery store and cooking together. 
  • Involve kids in meal planning and preparation.
  • Discourage grazing outside of mealtimes.
  • Schedule 3 regular mealtimes and 2 snacks. 
  • Make mealtime and food introduction a positive and happy experience. 
  • Model the eating behavior you would like your child to emulate. 

Problem feeding and picky eating are common problems that many families face. Not every approach will be successful, but with patience and persistence, children can expand their dietary preferences. For additional guidance and resources on children and nutrition, check out the Ellyn Satter Institute at; Eat and feed with joy (ellynsatterinstitute.org).

Picky Eating and Problem Feeders – by Jen Orleow, MS, CN

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave A Reply

  • Vital Kids Medicine, PLLC
    5350 Tallman Ave NW, Suite #510
    Seattle, WA 98107
    fax: 206-525-3273

  • Stay Connected!

    Receive Info On Health Topics, Clinic Updates, Community Info

    Vital Kids Medicine