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Picky Eating or Something More? A Picky Eating Game Plan

We were gathered around a table at the annual Thanksgiving potluck.  Some family, some strangers.  Just this once I was hoping he would cooperate and eat some turkey.  I begged him to take just two bites.  No dice.  Fine!  Then no dessert with the rest of us!  After a lot of frustration and negotiating he took one bite, gagged, and almost puked it up right there at the table!  Picky eating had struck again!

Have you been there?

Are you there now?

If picky eating is making dinner a disaster, use the Picky Eating Game Plan to help bring peace to your table! #pickyeating #parenting #healthyeating

[Tweet “Use this #pickyeating game plan to bring #peace to your table! #parenting #specialneeds #spd”]

Picky Eating or Something More?

“She’s such a picky eater!”

“He’s so picky he barely eats anything!”

“I wish my kid would eat any fruits or vegetables, but she’s just too picky!”

What most people think of as ‘picky eating’ is really much more than that.  Picky eating is normal, mild (although often frustrating), and typically just a phase (that may come and go).  A picky eater may have strong preferences about certain foods, but the issue isn’t usually bad enough to have a significant impact on a child’s life or health.

When ‘picky eating’ becomes so intense that it interferes with daily living and eating, it’s not just picky eating anymore.  There are several names for this severe picky eating.  It can be called ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), SED (Selective Eating Disorder), and even Problem Eating.  If your life has been turned upside down due to your child’s eating habits, you’re facing something more than just picky eating!

What is Problem Eating?

Before we talk about what problem eating is, let’s talk about what it isn’t.

What it isn’t:
  • A lack of gratitude
  • Being spoiled
  • Whining
  • Being dramatic
  • A lack of discipline
What it is:

Problem eating is a genuine problem, and not one that stems from bad behavior or bad parenting.  There is usually an underlying cause like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, or food allergies and intolerances.  Some red flags for problem eating are:

  • He cannot be convinced to try other foods, regardless of the reward or punishment offered.
  • She ‘melts down’ or panics over requests to try non-preferred foods.
  • He gags or vomits when trying non-preferred foods.


For more help comparing picky eating to problem eating, get the Picky Eating Game Plan.

What NOT to do for Problem Eating

There are a few things parents typically do for picky eaters that will make things much worse for problem eaters.  Do NOT do these.

  • Blame yourself or your child: This isn’t his fault.  He probably wishes food wasn’t so scary for him.  It also isn’t your fault.  You didn’t ’cause’ this by being a bad mom, so let go of the guilt!
  • Get mad: Like most things in life, getting mad (and acting on that anger) isn’t going to help.  In fact, the extra pressure may make it even harder for your child.
  • Threaten punishment: Again, you want to decrease pressure with problem eating.  Punishing a child for eating difficulties will just build resentment and make it harder for her to eat.
  • Withhold food: You know the old wisdom of, “They’ll eat when they’re hungry enough”?  Yeah, that doesn’t work for kids with problem eating.  They won’t just eat the foods that overwhelm them because you refuse to give them anything else until they do.
  • Force feed: This should go without saying, but prying your kid’s mouth open and shoving a bite in is NOT a solution.  Just don’t do it!


Problem Eating- How to Help!

After reading this you may be suspecting that you are dealing with problem eating and wondering how to help.  First thing first.  Ask your child’s doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist.  Most therapy centers will have someone who specializes in problem eating.  These people are worth their weight in gold!  They took my son from sobbing at the thought of eggs sitting on his plate, to calmly eating eggs multiple times a week!  Second, talk with your child.  Without pressure, discuss the importance of eating a variety of healthy foods.  Third, download the Picky Eating Game Plan.  Then, take some baby steps and celebrate any progress that you make!  Remember, it can be hard when you realize your kid has special needs, but there is hope.  With a little help and a whole lot of patience, things will get better!







This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. This is really interesting. I feel like most young children that I know go through their picky phases. My son goes in and out of his pickiness it seems like weekly! I never know exactly how to handle it. Thanks for the tips!
    1. heather
      You’re right. Most kids go through picky phases and that is totally normal. Problem eating is when the phase never ends or it is so intense that it genuinely interferes with the child’s daily living.
  2. Jaclyn Musselman
    I have a child that will not try new foods even though he has no idea what they taste like. It is a struggle!
    1. heather
      There is a particular type of problem eating called Food Neophobia. It’s basically an intense fear of trying any new foods.
  3. Tiff Weilbacher
    Yes! I can definitely testify to this! As an autism mom, I have been told countless times that my boys are spoiled, but people really don’t understand. They CAN’T tolerate certain foods and food groups. They have sensory aversions, which cause a very dramatic response, much different than the reaction that typical people have to goods they don’t like. Dealing with true eating issues takes a lot of patience and understanding.
    1. heather
      Growing up I was often treated like I was ‘spoiled’ or called a ‘cry baby’. At the time I didn’t understand that the foods were causing intense fear for me. All I knew was I absolutely could NOT eat them. Now that I look back I can see the signs of SPD, but at the time it was seen as a behavior problem.
  4. Waynna
    Great insight! Thank you for sharing!! Do you think development plays a role?
    1. heather
      Normal picky eating can be a developmental stage. When you hit the point of problem eating it’s no longer a normal developmental phase and has stated to interfere with daily living.
  5. I don't know what makes a picky eater. I was a picky eater as a kid. My mom always made sure to included something in our supper that I would eat. Mac and Cheese or potatoes or something. I love food now. Sometimes it just takes some growing up I guess.
    1. heather
      I was actually talking about this with our occupational therapist one day. There are a few things. First, some amount of picky eating is normal and something kids will usually outgrow on their own. Second, as we grow we learn coping mechanisms so we are better able to handle the foods we don’t like. Third, as adults we get to control the menu. How often do you cook thebfoods you don’t like for yourself? I personally never serve pineapple because I absolutely hate it. So, there is no drama over me refusing to eat pineapple now, because it’s never at our table!

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