When Should I Worry About My Kid's Picky Eating?
J Julia DeNey

When Should I Worry About My Kid's Picky Eating?

Mar 13, 2024

As a parent, navigating your child's picky eating habits can be a challenging journey filled with concern and countless questions. You're not alone in wondering when it's time to worry or seek help for your kid's dietary preferences. Recognizing the fine line between typical picky eating and potential issues that may require professional intervention is crucial. To learn more, we spoke with Brenda Chilstom, pediatric occupational therapist and feeding specialist and founder of That Makes Sense OT. Here is what she had to say. 

Understanding Picky Eating

Picky eating in children is a common phase, often characterized by a preference for specific foods and reluctance to try new ones. While it's a normal part of development, there are times when picky eating can be a sign of underlying issues, including sensory sensitivities or nutritional deficiencies.

Early Signs to Watch For

Parents are usually the first to notice unusual eating patterns in their children. It's essential to observe and consider whether your child's picky eating is affecting their growth, health, or daily functioning. If your child is exhibiting extreme resistance to trying new foods, showing a significant reduction in the variety of foods they will eat, or if mealtime becomes a source of stress and anxiety, it may be time to delve deeper.

The Role of Pediatricians

Often, parents bring up their concerns during pediatric well checks. However, pediatricians may have limited time and resources to fully address eating and sensory issues during these visits. While pediatricians do their best, their advice to "wait and see" may not always be in your child's best interest, especially if the picky eating is becoming more pronounced and restrictive over time.

The Importance of Early Intervention

The adage "the sooner, the better" holds true when it comes to addressing picky eating. If you notice your child struggling with the transition from formula to solid foods, or if their picky eating habits seem to be intensifying, reaching out for professional help early can prevent these issues from becoming more ingrained. Specialists in pediatric nutrition and sensory processing can offer tailored strategies and interventions to support your child's dietary needs and help them explore new foods in a positive, stress-free way.

Sensory Issues and Eating

For some children, picky eating is closely linked to sensory processing challenges. Foods that are too crunchy, too smooth, or have a particular color may be difficult for children with sensory sensitivities to accept. Understanding the sensory preferences and needs of your child can be a key component in addressing picky eating behaviors.

Final Thoughts

While every child goes through phases of picky eating, recognizing when this behavior crosses the threshold from typical development to a potential issue is vital. If your child's eating habits are causing concern, don't hesitate to seek advice from specialists in pediatric nutrition and sensory processing. Remember, you know your child best, and advocating for their health and well-being is paramount. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your child's relationship with food and overall development.

About Brenda Chilstrom, OTR/L

Brenda Chilstrom is a seasoned pediatric occupational therapist with over 30 years of experience, specializing in sensory and feeding challenges. After working in various settings, including schools, early intervention, and specialized centers, she founded her own business, That Makes Sense OT, in 2007 to provide focused support to children in need. Brenda's commitment to her specialty is underscored by her continuous education in feeding and sensory integration. Now based in Naples, FL, she offers private practice services to preschools and homes, aiming to enhance community awareness about sensory needs and promote independence and well-being in children.  She also does online coaching for feeding and sensory processing. Brenda is also an advocate for using supportive tools, such as compression vests, to aid children's sensory integration, helping them to feel more grounded and secure. Her work is dedicated to ensuring every child can thrive in their environment.

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