A Picky Eater And A Problem Feeder – The Difference

Are mealtimes a battle in your household? Do you have a picky eater or a problem feeder?

If there are two things we as parents wish we could control is the consumption of food and ability to sleep solidly and peacefully upon request. It is however a harsh parenting reality when we realise that the power of these two vitals are very much out of our hands.

Is it normal?

I don’t like to use the word ‘normal’ when it comes to picky eaters. This is probably because so many factors and variables that are “normal” co-exist. Understanding a typical intake of food and behaviour around food is key to understanding if help is required. 

I’ve been looking at paediatric food diaries for over five years, and parents often report their child as being a fussy eater, but typically the nutritional intake will balance itself out over the course of 5 days.

Is my child a picky eater? 

Here are some signs that your child is typically picky and with a few simple techniques will ‘grow out of’ their picky eating ways:

  • Fluctuation between percentiles between first two years of growth.
  • Elimination of foods that were previously preferred.
  • Eating over 600 calories one day and seemingly zero or very little the following day.
  • Young children will typically prefer carbohydrates over fibre rich foods.
  • Illnesses such as a cold or flu will naturally decrease the consumption and willingness to eat.
Or a problem feeder?

Understanding issues that depict but are not solitary indicators of a problem feeder include:

  • Emotional reaction around food, crying, gagging, vomiting, anxiety.
  • Documented nutritional deficiencies.
  • Rapid growth decline or fallen off the growth chart.
  • Poor energy or frequent meltdowns when hungry.
  • Oral challenges that make it hard to chew or swallow food.
  • A sensory challenge that impairs the sensory input (the way it feels, looks, or smells etc).
  • Eats less than 15 foods and is prone to dropping ‘safe foods’ rather than increase and often eats a different meal to the rest of the family.
  • Avoids whole food groups like (proteins, vegetables or fruits).
  • Eats with distractions, toys, technology or TV.

Extreme picky eating is like a spectrum, we all have preferences when it comes to food, but it becomes a problem if it’s getting in the way of nutrition, growth and general well being of the child and or family.

Some picky eaters are in a category in the most worrying nature. I know of a child that I treated over 4 years ago that was living solely on Oreo biscuits and milk.

When to get help

The important thing to know is when to get help and when they will likely grow out of it and hopefully I haven’t overwhelmed you with too much info for you to make that judgement of your own situation.

Just know that well-meaning GP’s who give the advice ‘they’ll just grow out of it’ can sometimes be wrong and in 2014 there was a new feeding disorder introduced that shows the division of picky eating v’s problem feeder.

Read here about ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) and tips on how to avoid a diagnosis.

Don’t worry, I have a archive full of helpful tips to get your picky eater eating healthily and happily at each mealtime. Plus if you pop your name at the top of this page you’ll receive my free tasting technique that will help you to introduce new foods into your child’s diet.

Perhaps you might be interested in reading some more helpful blogs on this topic

Picky eating kids, could it be as simple as a mineral deficiency?

Could there be a neurological reason you have a picky eater?

The top 5 causes of a fussy eating child

10 tips for feeding a fussy toddler