Picky Eaters vs. Problem Eaters - Aviva Allen's Blog

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Picky Eaters vs. Problem Eaters

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Picky eating is very common among children but how do you know when it is just a passing phase or when there is a real problem that needs to be addressed?

Here is a brief comparison of what you might see with a Picky Eater compared to a Problem Eater:

1) A Picky Eater will eat at least one food from each food texture or nutrition group whereas a Problem Eater may refuse foods from an entire group altogether.

2) A Picky Eater is usually able to tolerate a new food being on their plate and may even touch or taste it (although often reluctantly) whereas a Problem Eater may have a complete meltdown when presented with a new/non-preferred food accompanied by a complete refusal.

3) A Picky Eater may experience a "burn out" when a particular favourite food is eaten on a daily basis, but if a short break is taken, they will often return to enjoying that food.  A Problem Eater, however, will often not reintroduce these lost foods, resulting in a decreasing number of accepted foods in their repertoire.

4) A Picky Eater will have a decreased range of foods in their diet, typically eating at least 30 different foods.  A Problem Eater will have a very restricted range of foods in their diet, usually less than 20 foods.

5) A Picky Eater will frequently eat different food from the rest of the family but will usually eat at the same table.  A Problem Eater will almost always eat different food from the rest of the family and will often sit separately at a family meal.

Does this mean that a Problem Eater cannot be helped? Not at all!  A Problem Eater can be more challenging to work with and the process of improving their eating habits will often take longer.  The more common strategies that may be effective when dealing with a Picky Eater may not work with a Problem Eater, leaving parents feeling frustrated and defeated.  Often parents' concerns are brushed off by their family doctors or pediatricians who will advise that "It's nothing to worry about. Your child will grow out of it."  Depending on the nature of the challenges your child is experiencing, involving the support of other health professionals such as a nutritionist, pediatric occupational therapist or speech language pathologist who specialize in feeding may be beneficial.  Getting to the root of the feeding difficulties is a very important part of this process.

Does this mean that a Picky Eater does not need help? Not necessarily.  If your child's eating is affecting their health in any way or causing stress or anxiety for you or for them, then it is important for you to seek help.  Early intervention may prevent a Picky Eater from becoming a Problem Eater.

Read more about my approach to dealing with Picky Eaters here...


Aviva Allen is one of Toronto's leading Kids' Nutritionists specializing in helping parents deal with their picky eaters. Inspired by her two young boys' adventures in food, Aviva helps children and their families establish healthy eating habits through her nutritional counselling, offering consultations via phone or Skype. Aviva is also the founder of Healthy Moms Toronto, helping connect like-minded moms throughout the GTA.

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Aviva Allen is one of  Toronto's leading Kids' Nutritionists specializing in helping parents deal with their picky eaters.

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