Picky eating among young children is so commonplace, it often is
a topic at cocktail parties and playgrounds: "My child won't eat
anything green," or, "My child eats only white foods."
Most children outgrow this stage between 5 and 7. Yet for a
large percentage of developmentally delayed children, such as those
born prematurely, and 5 percent of the rest of the population of
toddlers and children, picky eating is a serious health
Some children are so picky or feeding averse they will consume
only a few foods, such as crackers and certain types of juice.
How do you know what type of feeder your child is? A picky eater
may reject certain foods, but still has a nourishing diet. Children
with a pediatric feeding disorder may consume only three to four
types of foods and reject entire food groups, resulting in too few
calories and nutrients for healthy growth and development.
"Most kids experience food jags. A child with a feeding disorder
will start omitting foods out of their repertoire instead of adding
them," says early intervention nutrition specialist Jennine Sidler,
RD, of Primary Nutrition Specialists in Frankfort. "Often the first
sign of an eating disorder is they can't look at the food."
She points to numerous physical reasons a child rejects certain
foods, including pain, malaise, immature motor skills, behavior or
emotional problems, and parental or environmental factors. "Most of
the time it's physical-some type of surgery, reflux, GI pain or
negative reinforcement. Or they have autism, Asperger's syndrome,
Down syndrome or some type of development delay."
Kay Toomey, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist, developed the SOS
(sequential oral sensory) Approach to Feeding, a program for
assessing and treating children with feeding problems. She
distinguishes picky eaters from problem eaters by the variety of
food accepted. If the child accepts more than 20 foods, he is a
picky eater. A problem eater eats fewer than 20 food items.
When new foods frighten
Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Monell Chemical
Senses Center found that many times children have aversions to food
"Generally it's the wet plant foods such as the fruit and
vegetable group that the sensory kids avoid," says Sidler, a mother
of three, one of whom is picky due to allergies.
Feeding problems are increasing due to the rise of disorders
such as autism, sensory integration, and even prematurity.
"A feeding problem is often the first clue a developmental
disorder exists," she says.
"Most of the kids crave crunchy and eat a lot of the starch
group. They're completely omitting the fruit and vegetable group. A
lot of times it feels like they're eating a grasshopper. They can't
even touch it."
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