When Is Picky Eating a Nutritional Problem?

Is your child’s picky eating actually a clue to a more serious medical problem? How can a parent tell when picky eating is becoming a health risk?

In today’s video, we explore why kids reject particular foods, the different causes of picky eating, and the warning signs that might point to an underlying medical problem. 

— What are the causes of picky eating? —

50% of kids are considered picky eaters at some point during their childhood. No matter what its cause, picky eating can cause stress for parents and poor nutrition for growing children.

Picky eating comes from either behavioral, sensory, or medical causes. 

When picky eating is behavioral, a mix of parenting style and a child’s personality can play a part. An autocratic – or controlling –  parenting style can lead to power struggles over meals, while a permissive parenting style may lead to a lack of boundaries and a child who is controlling the eating environment, leading to a lack of variety and exposure to new foods.

Sensory causes arise amongst children who have strong preferences to smells, textures, tastes, and appearances. Sometimes these kids are perceived as being very sensitive. These children don’t like tags in their clothes, seams in their socks; they don’t like loud noises, or other environmental disturbances. 

The third cause of picky eating is medical. In some cases, a child has associated eating with discomfort from past experiences.These incidences can even happen during infancy, and the child may no longer remember the initial incident and how they came to dislike eating. Sometimes the medical cause is gastro-intestinal, such as reflux or stomach aches associated in the past with eating certain types or amounts of food, or being full. 

— Warning Signs for Medical Picky Eating — 

  • Extremely slow eating. This can be due to a lack of chewing strength, a lack of chewing/swallowing/breathing coordination, tightness in the esophagus, or pain with swallowing. Food allergies and anatomical issues are often contributors to these symptoms. 
  • Eating only a small amount of food — Kids may eat enough just to shut down their hunger. This is common amongst babies with a history of significant reflux, or kids who have other GI pain or discomfort from being overly full. 
  • Avoiding popular kids foods — Bread, pasta, and starchy foods are known favorites for most kids. However, some kids avoid these foods, not even realizing there is a pattern to what they avoid. But, this can indicate food sensitivities or underlying celiac disease, IBS, or gluten intolerance. 

— Treating Picky Eating — 

Whatever its cause, picky eating is a problem with potentially serious consequences. It’s very important if you have a picky eater, that you have your child evaluated by someone with experience understanding the variety of different situations that can cause picky eating.

If you’re concerned about your child’s picky eating, contact us a Feed to Succeed. Our team of Registered Dietitians can help you identify the causes of your child’s picky eating and address it.