Is Picky Eating Ever "Normal"?


So what is ‘normal’? Well, research shows that 1 out of 5 kids struggle with eating at some point by the time they are 7 years old. Only half of children who experience feeding problems will grow out of their feeding challenges without help. Feeding problems are often a result of a skill deficit, not just a ‘behavioral problem’. Kids often have multiple underlying difficulties and addressing them is crucial to helping them finally grow out of picky eating. Examples of underlying difficulties include:  

  • Physical discomfort or lack of appetite from a ton of different medical causes (Acid reflux in kids is one example)

  • Strong dislike of certain textures, smells, or tastes of foods to the point of gagging or even vomiting (aka sensory processing issues with food)

  • Underdeveloped oral musculature typically evidenced by difficulty chewing and swallowing

Mealtime allows a child to explore new tastes and textures while concurrently encouraging the development of motor skills through finger feeding and the use of utensils. Of equal importance, the feeding process is marked by social contact with other children, parents, and family members, and it is essential for the development of social interaction skills in the child. 

Contextual factors must be taken into consideration when working with children who have feeding disorders and with their families. In some cases, feeding problems are based primarily on contextual issues, including physical, social, temporal, and cultural factors. Understanding the contextual factors that influence mealtimes and feeding performance helps determine the basis for problems and possible solutions. Additionally, consideration is given to many different overlapping areas, including child factors, performance skills, activity demands, environmental contexts, and family patterns. Intervention plans to address picky eating or feeding complications may include environmental adaptations, positioning recommendations, adaptive equipment, food texture modifications, sensory development activities, behavioral strategies, neuromuscular handling techniques, and/or suggestions to improve independence in self-feeding. The following are a few environmental strategies commonly utilized to address picky eating habits: 

  • Provide consistent feeding times 

  • Reduce grazing or excessive liquid consumption outside meals 

  • Provide a consistent eating location and consistent length of meal

  • Try a new technique a number of times before determining that it is successful or unsuccessful

  • Implement only 1 or 2 key changes at a time to determine which interventions are more successful than others 

These environmental strategies will promote hunger cues, limit access to less nutritional foods, and create structure within the meal to establish positive eating patterns. Interventions can also be geared towards reducing tactile, gustatory, or olfactory hypersensitivity by introducing new smells and tastes gradually and by allowing children to explore foods using a playful approach. 

It is our hope at Champion Pediatric Therapy that this foundational outline of feeding difficulties provides helpful information and tips to address your child’s feeding needs. At Champion, we have several skilled therapists that are certified to provide evidence-based feeding interventions. If you have concerns for your child, talk to your therapist to discuss the opportunity for a potential feeding evaluation to be completed. We are always help to help!

Having difficulties with feeding at home? Let’s “taco”-bout it!