Picky Eater or Problem Feeder?


Picky Eater or Problem Feeder?

Picky Eater or Problem Feeder?

By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Do you have a child who is a picky eater or has a very limited diet? Does s/he refuse to try new things, or struggle with bridging from one form of a food to another? To have a well balanced diet, people should eat a variety of foods that include proteins, carbohydrates, and fruits/vegetables. So what is the difference between a picky eater and a problem feeder?

When your child only eats foods from one category or only a few foods in each category, you have a picky eater. Picky eaters generally have a limited number of foods they will eat (about 30). Typically, a picky eater will eat at least one food from all food texture groups. If a picky eater loses a food from their repertoire due to a food jag (when a child eats the same food day after day or meal after meal for several weeks), it can most often be reacquired following a two week break. Picky eaters will generally tolerate new foods on their plate, and will usually touch or even taste new foods. These children are able to add new foods to their repertoire in anywhere from 12 to 25 steps on the Steps to Eating Hierarchy.

Problem feeders differ from picky eaters in that they tolerate a very restricted range or variety of foods, usually less than 20. When a problem feeder loses a food from their repertoire, it is not re-gained. It is not unusual for children who are problem feeders to cry or “melt-down” when faced with a new food. These types of eaters generally refuse to eat entire categories of food textures. For example, they typically stick to all crunchy foods or all soft foods, and often times they prefer foods of one taste, such as salty foods or sweet foods. It takes problem feeders more than 25 steps on the Steps to Eating Hierarchy to add a new food.

The causes of picky eating or problem feeding can vary. For some children, it is a sensory deficit. Children with sensory deficits struggle with how a food looks, feels, smells, tastes and/or the sound it makes in their mouths as they chew it. For other children, it is a cognitive deficit. Something happened along the way that made the child cognitively opposed to certain types of foods or the process of eating itself. Either way, the treatment for picky eaters and problem feeders is the same.

If you have a child who is a picky eater or problem feeder, their eating repertoire is un-healthy and can lead to serious medical problems if not addressed. When your child suffers from one of these conditions, it not only affects the child but the whole family. It can be a source of frustration for both parents and the child, and can severely limit social aspects of life.

So what do you do if you have a picky eater or a problem feeder? There is hope and treatment available! Kay Toomey and associates developed the Sensory-Oral-Sequential Approach to Feeding (SOS) which is the preferred treatment methodology for picky eaters and problem feeders alike. The above mentioned Steps to Eating Hierarchy is the foundation of the SOS approach to feeding. The staff at Horizons finds the SOS approach to be very effective in expanding the food repertoires of our picky eaters and problem feeders. If the above information describes your child please contact us at 616-698-0306 for more information on the SOS approach. In upcoming articles I will explore more aspects of the SOS approach to treating feeding disorders.