What is extreme picky eating and how is it different from average picky eating? Learn what red flags to look out for in your child…
Doesn’t it seem like everybody has at least one picky eater at home? It is a pretty pervasive problem for parents, but are all picky eaters the same? Surprisingly, no, not at all. See, picky eating is like a spectrum, we all fall somewhere on this spectrum, that has adventurous eating on one end and extremely picky eating on the other. But, there is a lot of gray in the middle. Those middle of the road picky eaters, tend to outgrow or move past picky eating with some consistent structure and routine at mealtime.
But, the kiddo’s that fall at the far end of the eating spectrum, the really extreme picky eaters, they are in a category all their own (possibly with diagnosis of Pediatric Feeding Disorder). I wrote about this first a few years ago in, When Has Picky Eating Gone Too Far? I thought it was important to re-visit this again because I continue to see people lumping all picky eaters into the same boat. And, the distinction matters, if your child is an extreme picky eater versus an “average” picky eater because the extreme picky eaters often really struggle with food throughout their whole childhood and sometimes as adults. On top of that, extra and different strategies may be needed for the really severe picky eaters.
Jeez, did I just overwhelm you??? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered, because I’m going to tell you exactly what extreme picky eating red flags you need to look for below. PLUS, I have an amazing and free opportunity for you to learn the 3 MOST IMPORTANT strategies you can use in YOUR home to actually turn picky eating around. And, guess what? These strategies are totally and absolutely necessary for average picky eaters AND extreme picky eaters, so no matter where your child falls on this extreme picky eating spectrum, you won’t want to miss the FREE and LIVE 1 hour workshop I’m going to be doing next week. That’s right, I’ll be live, teaching YOU how to overcome your child’s picky eating, and it is open to one and all!
To get into the 3 Keys to Finally Turn Your Picky Eater Around workshop, sign up here and I’ll save your seat!!!
Write down any questions you have for me because you’ll be able to ask me LIVE at the end of the workshop anything I might not have covered. Go sign up and come back here to read about the 10 Red Flags, it will only take a minute!
10 Extreme Picky Eating Red Flags
If 3 or more of the following apply to your child, they are definitely leaning into extreme picky eating. If they have 5 or more, they would most likely be considered an extreme picky eater, and would benefit from specific strategies and/or additional help (I’ll give you the three most important ones in the workshop!)
1. Gags or even throws up at the sight, smell, touch, or taste of some foods.
2. Common picky eating strategies like the “just take a bite” rule don’t work.
3. Your child has meltdowns or major tantrums when they are encouraged to eat or interact with a new food or one they don’t typically eat.
4. Insists foods be prepared a certain way, and becomes very upset if the food is different from the way it is usually given to them (i.e.: will only certain brands, flavors, shapes, or colors.) This is actually a “thing,” and feeding therapists call it a food jag. Head over to the guide for food jags to learn more.
5. You believe your child would actually starve or be hospitalized before they actually ate a new or different food.
6. Has less than 20 foods total in their diet, and sometimes even less than 5.
7. Is unable to eat the rest of what the family is eating at meals because their diet is so limited.
8. Will only eat when distracted by a tablet, the TV, toys, books, or even parents singing or telling stories.
9. Will only eat if they are physically fed by someone else and refuse to feed themselves, even though they are old enough and capable of feeding themselves.
10. Unable to eat foods in social settings like birthday parties and sleep-overs because they must have their food prepared in a certain way. This will cause anxiety in older children.
Can Picky Eating Get Worse?
Yes, it definitely can. In fact, many extreme or severe picky eaters start off as “average picky eaters”, and because parents aren’t sure what to do (no judgement, its can be hard to find solutions), the problem can become worse and worse having a snowball effect. The good news is that in these instances, it can be prevented, but you need a plan.
A great starting place is showing up for the free live 3 Keys to Turn Your Picky Eater Around Workshop because I’m going to go over my basic plan with you in person. You will learn so much more. Make sure you get a seat!
SIGN UP FOR THE FREE PICKY EATING WORKSHOP HERE!!!
I also want to mention that without those basic picky eating strategies in place, even extreme picky eating can get worse, even when you think it can’t. It’s very common for a child that has only 10 foods they eat to suddenly start to refuse one of their old tried and true favorites, to seemingly never eat it again. Of course, this isn’t all doom and gloom though because there is a way out of it, and I’ve seen dozens of kids do just that with the right strategies.
You can do this for your child, too! It is possible, truly, as I know from personal experience, as well. Besides being a pediatric OT that specializes in feeding, I’m also a mom to three boys, one of which was an extreme picky eater. I totally get the struggle, stress, and pressure parents feel when their kid doesn’t eat. If you’re new here, and you’ve already signed up for the workshop, poke around in the menu bar and side bar to find lots more tips, tricks, and strategies for picky eating!
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.
My son just turned 7. He ate just fine until He was force fed by the sitter at age 1 1/2. Since then he has refused us to feed him and most foods. He only wants junk food crunchy texture after that. He literally only eats gold fish, Doritos only blue, Chocolate chip cookies, French fries only Mc Donald’s or whataburger, club crackers, fruit snacks, certain chocolate. Drinks a lot of water and will always ask for soda but if I say no he is fine with it. He loves to help cook, grocery shop and grow food but refuses to eat it. He gags at food on a plate, certain smells when cooking. We have been trying to introduce new foods for quite sometime but he gets so upset crying, yelling he doesn’t want it, making himself hyperventilate, gagging almost throwing up. He has even given himself a headache because he gets so worked up over it. He says he can’t chew or swallow the food. He says it’s wet. Literally he takes a nibble and starts all of this. I spoke to his doctor today and she referred me to OT. Is their a certain type of OT I need to ask for? I truly don’t know what to do anymore. I have registered for your webinar tomorrow. Please HELP! I am so worried about him. Jody
Great advice about the playdates! The daycare issue is less about introducing new foods during that time and more about getting him to eat something other than just bread. We tried to let things go with just what was at daycare but he wound up getting bound up and having to visit the Dr for this. Should I continue with making his lunches?
I’m attending the online seminar today. Prior to that, I am talking with his pediatrician to see if there is a food therapist he can suggest in the area. We’ve struggled with the tactile defensive issues since he was a baby and he’s still in fear of certain foods due to the choking and throwing up issues from the past. He’s actually very food positive and likes to talk about different foods, grow and make it, but he’s on the outside looking in when it comes to experiencing it and breaks my heart to see him struggle.
Looking forward to more good advice to help us get on a better path.
oh gosh Natalie, yes if he’s getting bound up because of the types of foods he’s eating when at daycare then I’d pack some alternatives. I’d ask for a schedule of what they are having for meals so that you can plan accordingly on the days that you feel you may need it! I think it’s great he’s open to talking about foods and is interested, this is HUGE! I think you’ll get some great tips from the workshop!
I really got a lot from the workshop. We are working on changing our mindset around mealtime to help him feel more supported and relaxed about things. Its so easy to get wrapped up in all the assumptions and old advice going around that you get frustrated but the workshop really reset our minds and goals.
My biggest take away was finally having the right words to help explain some of the sensory issues better to our Dr. It is something people don’t talk enough about so being able to explain the tactile defensive issues and how they affect his relationship to food has made a huge difference. His Dr. Is reaching out to find us some help as well.
Thank so you much for the time to respond and advice. It means a ton. We are looking to enroll in the other program as well.
I love all of your take aways as well as you setting goals! It’s so great that you were able to explain how this is all connected to your doctor! I hope that they are more understanding and helpful now as well, as sometimes we all need a little more training! So glad you seem to be getting on a good path to help you picky eater!
I’m very concerned about my 3.5 year old granddaughter not eating. Her parents have never followed rules with her such as sitting at the table until finished eating nor do they follow any normal mealtime hours. She goes very long periods of not eating or barely eating. She only eats about 5 things all junk all carbs, no veggies, only fruit is a banana, absolutely no milk. They ask her what she wants to eat which she will say no to. Here’s what she eats waffles, pancakes, chicken nuggets, fries, crackers, oreo yogurt, water, donut, grilled cheese. THIS IS IT. No vitamin supplement. I’ve seen her go without food 5 hours or longer. I’m extremely concerned
Hi Jill! Here is a picky eater test for you to somewhat gauge the severity of her picky eating. If you need additional help with picky eating, we do have a free picky eating workshop that provides more tips and information— save your seat here! Let us know if you have any questions.
Natalie, i deel like you should look up Eosinophilic Esophagitis. My son was just diagnosed and all his ‘picky eating” makes sense now.
My son is five and a picky eater. He’s had the tactile issues since he was a baby but things got worse as he got older and desiring control over what he eats. He’s also suffered from constipation in the past which makes things hard as well. He’s food positive, he likes shopping for it, growing it in the garden, and playing games preparing it, it’s another thing when he has to be the one to eat it though. He’s carb focused, only likes chicken nuggets/pepperoni as far as meat, eats hummus, seed/nut butter, and prefers pouches instead of vegetables or fruit (which he’s always had a problem with as far as texture.). I want to implement your suggestions and work on a better routine with him but what trips us up is daycare which they do family-style meals and if he doesn’t like the mean, they will serve him a sandwich and let him pull everything off it and just have bread (then ask me to bring in more junky snacks because he’s hungry.) or I have to make meals for him which is catering to the pickiness. The other problem is outings with friends who’s kids snack all the time and we have to bring snacks or he takes snacks from them and the routine is thrown off. Any advice for these moments?
Thanks for reaching out, sounds like you are working on getting into a new routine. Hopefully you’ve taken our Free Workshop for some great tips and strategies to get started. As far as lunch at daycare, we generally state this is the last place to work on the picky eating. So as you are tackling things and making progress at home, you can add new foods into daycare as he’s accepting, but I wouldn’t be too concerned about this! As far as snacks, I’d just do the best you can as far as talking to others to see if they can be helpful with sitting down for a meal together before playing (if possible and meal time) so everyone is less hungry and focused on playing instead of snacks!
Hope that helps!
My son is 3 and REFUSES to eat new foods. He eats fruit and yogurt, but only one kind, and occasionally ham chunks, no other meat at all. He did eat pizza but now refuses and was eating INLY annies Mac and cheese (the bunny kind) but is now tired of that. He freaks if new food is presented and doesn’t want it on his plate. Of course he will eat chips, cookies, chocolate- but I try to limit unhealthy foods.he will eat PB toast, so some protein, but I can’t send that to school for lunch. He ate better as a toddler but stopped. He will only eat with an iPad and goes some days hardly eating at all. I’d love tips to get him to try more variety, because when he does try, rarely, he likes it (ie loves pickles) I have bought food cutters and tried sending carrot dinosaurs and cucumber teddy bears, they come home uneaten. I cook with him, give him utensils and he helps me prep, hoping he will be interested to try something, but nothing yet. I’m going to try implementing some of your strategies and I am attending the webinar this week. Hope I can move this is the right direction!