Is your picky eater so extreme with what they will and won’t eat that you wonder if there’s any hope for them to actually eat new or different foods? Find out if that’s true from a pediatric occupational therapist.
“Nothing has helped, I’ve accepted that it isn’t going to get any better.”
She’s referring to her son’s SUPER picky eating, what I and many other feeding therapists call extreme picky eaters. This is a paraphrased comment, one of many that I’ve read recently. But, it’s a comment I’ve probably hear a thousand times.
Every single time I hear it, it breaks my heart a little.
I get why so many parents feel that their extreme picky eaters are doomed to eat badly at least for the next few years. Some hold out hope that they’ll eventually turn their eating around, other’s wonder if it’s even possible?
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’m going to tell you what I’ve found after working with thousands of families struggling with picky eating all over the world!
What Is an Extreme Picky Eater?
Picky eating means different things to different people and parents that haven’t had an extreme picky eater think that all picky eaters are created equal. That the “trick” or “tip” that worked for their child will also work for an extreme picky eater. But, that’s usually not the case.
Extreme picky eaters are in a category of their own. With an extreme picky eater, you’ll see any of the following:
- Strong emotional or physical reactions to new or different foods (gagging, throwing food, tantrums)
- Less than 20 foods in their diet (and sometimes as few as 2-3 foods)
- Especially particular about the types of foods they do eat (must be a certain brand, cooked to a certain temperature, or cut a specific way).
Extreme picky eaters will also starve before eating new or different foods. That means the often well-intentioned but misguided advice to “feed them what you’re eating and they’ll eventually get hungry and eat” is dangerous for extreme picky eaters. These kids will get sick with migraines, faint, or throw up bile (I know of families that have experienced all of these) before eating new or different foods.
Some will even need to be put a feeding tube because they won’t finally give in and eat that lasagna.
Make sure you know exactly what type of picky eater your child is by taking the picky eating quiz!
Does Extreme Picky Eating Last Throughout Childhood? Into Adulthood?
Extreme picky eating is rarely something that gets better completely on it’s own, especially if mealtimes continue to be a daily battleground. If you scroll through my facebook page, you’ll see countless comments from parents who’ve been struggling for years with their kids eating.
As preteens, kids often become socially aware of their limited diet and may even wish they ate more foods. It can become a social stigma into the teenage years and cause a lot of anxiety.
Some teens will push themselves to venture into new foods, but some don’t.
Young adults typically learn to manage the extreme reactions to new and different foods, but they often continue to be highly selective about their food choices.
Can Extreme Picky Eaters Change?
Extreme picky eating is intense.
It’s frustrating and stressful.
It can drag on for years, but is it really possible for you to see enough improvement to make a difference in day to day life??? My answer to that question is an absolute and unwavering: YES!
My heart breaks a little every time I hear a parent say they’ve given up on their child’s extreme picky eating because I believe with every fiber of my being that there’s a way for every child to learn to enjoy and even love new foods – no matter how picky they are.
I’m so confident because I’ve witnessed amazing transformations in the most severe extreme picky eaters. Kids that only ate a few different foods, kids that ran screaming from the table, and even kids that were on a feeding tube because they weren’t eating.
In the video below, you’ll hear some of the amazing transformations for yourself from my Mealtime Works students:
What Does It Take to Change an Extreme Picky Eater?
Before we can even get into specific strategies and a solid plan that you can rely on (which I believe is what every extreme picky eater needs), you’ve first got to believe that it’s possible for your child to learn to eat new and different foods.
No matter how extreme they are.
No matter what you’ve tried in the past.
That it’s worth the effort so they can grow up to have a healthy relationship with food – instead of living in fear of it. That it gives them the opportunity to get all the wonderful nutrition and health benefits from a variety of foods.
This mindset shift may be the hardest, but as long as we believe that, there’s no hope, there won’t be any hope to be had. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.
It’s almost impossible not to move into the self protection of “My child can’t eat anything new, we’ve tried everything”, because then we don’t risk disappointment and stress if it doesn’t work. I know you’ve been beaten down by the stress of picky eating day in and day out, meal after meal, throughout the whole day.
You may have had doctors and, in some cases, feeding therapists, tell you “There’s nothing else that can be done.”
What else are you supposed to think? To believe?
I’m here to tell you, as a mom that’s lived it, and as a feeding therapist and teacher, that it truly is possible for even your child to learn to eat new foods! It’s time to reclaim hope and allow yourself to imagine how your life, your child’s life, would be different if they ate more foods.
If they weren’t scared of new foods.
What You Can Do Today!
I’m cheering you on, to step out and believe that there’s hope for your picky eater. But, my homework for you is to put that in action. For the next week, I want you to start imagining your child eating new and different foods. Imagine peaceful meals that you all enjoy together. Think about going to restaurants and parties without any food issues.
Let go of any negative thoughts about your child’s extreme picky eating.
This is easy, but not always simple. It’s a critical place to start though.
More Help Coming Soon + A Free Printable!
Taking that first step of changing your mindset will get you completely ready for the brand new picky eating workshop series that’s coming on 9.17.19. When you sign up for a free spot, you’ll learn my unique 2 step process to move your child from picky eater to healthy child! Sign ups will start next week, so keep an eye out!
In the meantime, grab my free printable Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters to give you some inspiration!
The Mealtime Works Scholarship
Mealtime Works is my online picky eating program that gives parents a complete plan to help picky eaters learn to eat a variety of foods so they’re nourished. It’s streamlined and easy to follow, but it covers every aspect of picky eating so you know exactly how to help your child. But, as a child of a single mother that had a hard time making ends meet, I never want the cost of this invaluable program to stand in the way of a parent getting the help they need.
That’s why, once a year, I offer several full scholarships for Mealtime Works.
If your child’s extreme picky eating is stressful and overwhelming, but you have financial constraints, than check out more about the program below, then fill out our scholarship application. The deadline for all submission is Monday September 16th at Midnight PST.
Click here to learn more about Mealtime Works
Click here to submit a scholarship application
More Help for Extreme Picky Eaters
Letting Go of the Worry and Stress of Having a Child That’s a Picky Eater
Mindfulness Activities for Kids With a Poor Appetite
5 Tips That Gave Me More Time to Help My Picky Eater
How to Get Kids Eating at Meals Instead of Snacking All Day
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 2 and a half stopped eating regular foods, not only milk juice and peanut butter with crackers. She eats this repeatedly throughout the day. We sneak in baby food of vegetables and fruits so she can get some nutrition.
We understand the struggles!! Take our picky eating quiz to get some suggestions based on which category your child falls in! Take the Quiz
I was that child. I lived with the stigma, rude comments, and isolation until I was in my 20s. Then I found a feeding program at Hershey and it changed my life. I wanted to eat like other people but had no idea how. I still have some selection but willing to try new foods and able to eat so much more. I know my parents tried but didnt know how to help. I know they also lived with rude comments from other parents too, blaming them for my picky eating. God is amazing using our weakness to help others. I now live in a foreign country and foster babies with eating difficulties. My current little girl is a challenge but doing amazing.
Thank-you so much for sharing!! It’s great to hear stories like yours 🙂
Hello I’m sadly one of the moms that has thrown in the towel with my child and it breaks my heart. He eats don’t get me wrong but it’s maybe 10 different foods. I have googled tons of pasta recipes and so far only one he will eat sometimes. As of right now if he doesn’t eat what we made I give him baby food pouches because I know he’s hungry. What sucks is I tell my pediatrician and she thinks I’m crazy because he is really high on the percentile for both height and weight. I guess to her he’s “healthy” so “just keep doing what I’m doing”. I’m just at a loss. My son is almost 16 months and I keep hearing it’ll get better he’ll eat eventually or he’ll eat when he’s hungry. I guess until he voice what he wants of why he doesn’t like things this is my normal. I don’t know what else to do.
We hear you and unfortunately this happens a lot!! We are here for you!! Check out our picky eating quiz HERE this will provide you with some great suggestions based on the type of picky eater you have!! Also keep a look out for our new video series workshop starting on 9.17.19 as it will be filled with tons of information!! You are doing great!! Keep your head up!!