Feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with your picky eater?
I promise there’s a solution.
Picky eating in children is right up there on the list of parental woes and understandably, most parents simply don’t know where to start in order to fix the problems. Could mealtime mayhem simply a behavioural issue? Is your child acting out in protest of not getting what he or she wants? Perhaps it’s a physical response to food? Or is there something else going on?
Let me start by reassuring you that you’re not alone on this journey. With the right tools and techniques, it’s possible to solve every child’s picky eating issues.
First up, you need to work out what’s causing the problem. And please don’t put this in the ‘too hard’ basket. I’ve been helping parents and kids for many years and honestly, my system works. So, if you’re serious about sorting out your picky eater, I urge you to carry on reading.
Here are the main reasons behind picky eating and you can find more detail about each one further in the article.
- Environmental circumstances and trust issues between the parent and child
- Independence, control, and power struggles
- Mismatching of oral motor abilities
- Sensory issues
- Digestive issues
- Anxiety and trauma related aversions
#1 Trust has been lost.
I get it. Parents feel overwhelming pressure to raise a happy healthy child and nutrition is a huge factor. Veggies are front and centre, so we do everything we can to try and get them in. Zucchini muffins, avocado chocolate mousse, beetroot brownies. Maybe you’ve even tried distracting them with technology to get some sneaky mouthfuls in. Don’t stress – we’ve all been there.
Although these are foolproof ways of getting nutrition in, they’re also sure-fire ways to create an expert food tasting detective. Your child is likely to lose all trust in food and in you as the feeder. They don’t trust what’s lurking inside your recipes. And this could well be why your child prefers the predictability and self-feeding freedom of packaged foods over foods that you make or feed them.
#2 There are independence, control, and power struggles.
Did you know that a petite-sized family is 85% more likely to try and control a child’s growth percentile if it falls on or below the 15% weight percentile?
Control around mealtimes is also sadly an issue in families of heavier percentiles and can cause power struggles and damaging conversations about food.
I know people’s intentions are good and you want to raise a healthy child, but this control will undoubtedly backfire. Picky eating is a sign that a child is trying to take control back.
#3 Eating is harder than walking or talking and is often way less enjoyable.
Take a moment to think about the skills that are required to eat.
A child needs to be able to read the sensory input from their fingers, nose, tongue and eyes in order to create a neurological response which decides whether a sensation is positive or negative. Eating also requires hand-eye coordination, bilateral tongue movement, chewing and swallowing.
Giving a child food that mismatches their ability is one of the most common parenting mistakes.
A child can gag or choke on something that they aren’t capable of breaking down and it can take just one instance of trauma to create a fear of foods. It’s important to be mindful of only providing a child with foods that they can mange without too much oral demand.
Can you now see why some children need to be taught to feed?
#4 Sensory issues
If you’ve ruled out the previous possibilities behind your picky eater’s behaviour, this could well be the red flag.
Each child is born with the ability to touch, feel, hear, see, smell and make decisions from those experiences. And that’s really important when they’re making decisions about food. But what if a child has forgotten – or never quite grasped the ability to use or process information from their senses from the outset?
There are numerous reasons for sensory processing disorders (SPD), the most common of which are related to autism related diagnosis and neurodivergent children. But remember, someone doesn’t have to have SPD to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the reverse is true too.
Sensory processing delays are most common in children who haven’t had much experience with food – other than at mealtimes. For example, delays occur when a child has been predominately hand-fed by an adult and eats meals when they are distracted (ie watching TV, playing on an iPad, looking at books etc).
It’s very common for parents to force-feed their children, but this popular control method is simply a short-term solution to a growing problem. The child will end up with real challenges with regards to making their own intuitive decisions about food choices, their internal feelings of fullness and ultimately with their enjoyment of eating.
You should also know that if a child has challenges with processing physical senses, they may also have auditory delays in processing information. Visual sensory tools are a tried and tested asset in a child’s therapeutic process and I’ve developed several of helpful aids which are suitable for children aged 2-10.
They’re available to purchase and you can get yours here:
#5 Digestive issues
Digestive issues are one of the most common causes of picky eating.
If your child has acid reflux, vomits frequently, suffers from constipation or diarrhoea, has skin rashes or eczema, persistent chest congestion or is failing to put on weight – there’s a good chance they have a digestive problem.
Want to learn more?
Dairy products are rich in calcium and protein and our health advisory councils have long advocated milk as nature’s perfect food. We’re told it’s important for helping to maintain and grow strong healthy bones. But does science support dairy’s elevated position on the food pyramid? It’s a perfect food for cows but is it perfect for humans?
If your child has been fed only on cows’ milk before they’ve gone on to solids and has experienced one or more of the above symptoms, I would suggest further investigation into the possibility of them being lactose intolerant.
#6 Anxiety and trauma related aversions
A child’s eating issue can be their coping mechanism. It can be protective behaviour or a way of regulating their emotions.
Common causes of trauma-related food aversions are generally associated with choking, a food allergy or intolerance response, force-feeding, social pressures or environmental situations (remember this was discussed earlier in point 1). Children with sensory processing disorders also often have anxiety related responses to certain textures or sensory overload or underload.
A child can exhibit both metabolic (diminished appetite) and symptomatic (an emotional or physical recoil) responses to the food trigger if they have anxiety-related food aversions.
Remember, no picky eating challenge is insurmountable. It can be overcome. And the solution in this case will require a series of response modifications and desensitisation methods.
Addressing food related causes systematically
Have you had a lightbulb moment with any of the factors listed above? Maybe you’ve recognised one or more potential reasons for your picky eater, but are unsure as to how to solve the problem systematically.
Here’s what you should do.
Book a 15 minute consultation with me.
I’m a paediatric feeding therapist (which is a rare speciality) and I have nearly a decade of experience in successfully treating feeding related issues in children. (Read what some of my relieved and happy parents have to say here)
These 15 minutes will help you learn more about my proven methods and what commitment you’ll need to solve your child’s eating aversions. During our chat, I will pinpoint the potential causes and talk about what specific methods will solve your issues.
When you book, you’ll be directed to a short questionnaire which will help both of us determine how serious your child’s eating habits are. Your answers hold the key to answering that burning question ….’Will my child ever grow out of this and be a healthy mindful eater’?
I look forward to meeting you!