Is it picky eating or a food disorder?

Is your child a picky eater or is it something more? Pexels

We all know “picky eaters”—children and adults alike. In childhood, this is usually just a normal phase of development. However, there are times to be concerned. According to Esther Ellis, a registered dietician, approximately one in four children has a feeding disorder and the percentage rises to four in five among children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Picky eating usually has the following characteristics:

n Eats from all food groups over days or weeks

n Doesn’t impact growth and weight gain

n Not associated with anxiety or extreme worry

Feeding disorders, on the other hand, manifest in these ways:

n Avoids entire food groups

n Impacts growth and weight gain

n Exhibits anxiety, worry or obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies

n Lack of hunger

If you suspect a feeding disorder, contact a doctor and/or registered dietician. To deal with picky eating, establishing a positive feeding environment and dynamic is important.

According to the Cornell University Healthy Children, Healthy Families Curriculum, children and adults have distinct roles when it comes to eating. Children decide what and how much to eat. Over time this will lead to healthy eating if healthy foods are offered at regular times. Children will learn to pay attention to their hunger and parents will learn to trust children’s internal cues for eating.

Parents are responsible for what foods and drinks are offered to children, when meals and snacks are served, and how the food is presented. It is important that adults learn to trust and depend on information coming from the child about timing, amount, preference and eating pace. The “clean your plate club” is not recommended.

Infant feeding is the perfect example of the division of responsibility in action. The parent is responsible for what and the baby is responsible for how much. Let’s think about breastfeeding for a minute. When feeding directly from the breast, a mother cannot see how much the baby is eating. We must rely on the baby’s cues to let us know timing, tempo, frequency and amounts. (We will talk more about breastfeeding next month as world breastfeeding week is this Sunday, Aug. 1 through Saturday, Aug. 7. Even if you didn’t practice this with your infant, or even toddler, it’s never too late to start. Just remember caregivers are responsible for what, when and where and children are responsible for how much and whether or not to eat.

If you would like more information on picky eating, family meals, division of responsibility, breastfeeding, or any other nutrition and food related topic, just give me a call or shoot me an email — 315-788-8450 or

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