How much of a picky eater is your child? Should you be worried? Take this picky eating test to find out!
Think you have a picky eater? Everyone seems to have their own definition of what qualifies as a picky eater. But, there’s a wide range of picky eating and in some cases, it can be very stressful for the child and the whole family.
And, in some cases, it’s a normal part of development. Most parents don’t really know when to worry about their child’s picky eater or when to get them more help.
As an occupational therapist that specializes in picky eating, I’ve been trained in identifying specific red flags for the different types of picky eating. This info can be hard to find. This isn’t your average picky eater quiz with a silly list of foods that you circle to see how many your kid eats.
This picky eater test covers the main factors of your child eating that feeding specialists look at! Knowing which type of picky eater your child is can put them on a path to eating new foods. Let’s get started!
This Picky Eating is Based on Research!
When it comes to picky eating, there’s a lot of gray area. The questions below target the most common red flags I see, and are based on research in the field of feeding from folks like Ellyn Satter and Kay Toomey. There are many other, more unique signs though as well. Think of the results as a general ball park target that will give you a good starting place for what you can do next to help your child eat well.
You can also grab a printable version here so you can share the results with spouses, family, and doctors!
The Picky Eating Test Designed for Kids
This picky eating test is specifically designed for kids and toddlers from 15 months old through early teens. However, it will apply to older teens and adults as well. To begin, read the questions below and keep track of how many yes responses you have to the questions. Each time you answer “yes”, you’ll give yourself a score of 1. Each time you answer “no”, it’s a score of zero.
For example, if you answer yes to 5 questions and no to 13, your total score at the end is 5.
Take your time to answer the questions and look for the results at the end.
(Remember: Yes = 1 and No = 0)
Question #1: Does your child eat less than 30 foods?
Question #2: Does your child eat less than 20 foods?
Question #3: Does your child eat less than 10 foods?
Question #4: Does your child refuse to eat all types of vegetables?
Question #5: Does your child refuse to eat any type of meat or protein? (not due to a desire to be vegetarian)
Question #6: 6 Does your child refuse to eat any fruit?
Question #7: (Only for children 2 years of age and older): Do you have to physically feed your child in order for them to eat?
Question #8: Will your child only eat with the distraction of a tablet, TV, toys, books, etc.?
Question #9: Does your child gag, cry, throw food, or vomit when they’re asked to eat a new or different food? Or, when a food is placed on their plate?
Question #10: Does your child gag, cry, throw food, or vomit when they see a new or different food? (i.e.: They witness someone else eating a food, see it in a restaurant, or from across the room.)
Question #11: Does it feel very stressful to provide your child with a variety of foods at meals throughout the day?
Question #12: Does your child tend to eat only one texture of food, such as crunchy or soft foods only?
Question #13: Does your child tend to eat only 1-2 colors of foods, such as white, yellow, or beige?
Question #14: Does your child never seem interested in eating or appear to have no appetite at all?
Question #15: Does your child require food that’s different from the what the rest of the family is eating at meals?
Question #16: Are birthday parties and holiday meals stressful for you or your child because they are limited in the type of foods they eat?
Question #17: Do one or more of your child’s foods have to be a specific brand or prepared just right or they’ll refuse to eat them? (i.e.: your child will only eat Dino chicken nuggets, but won’t eat any other type of chicken nuggets.)
Question #18: Does your child have a food they used to eat everyday that they now hate and will no longer eat?
The Picky Eating Test Results
If you haven’t already, count up all the yes responses, 1 point for each of them. What’s your total number? Look at the four different categories below and find the range that your number fits into!
Type #1: The Typical Eater (0-2 points)
Your child is showing natural preferences if they’re eating at least some types of foods from all the food groups and have more than 30-40 foods in their diet. It’s also a great sign if they willingly try new foods, even if they don’t continue to eat them. It takes the average child 12-15 times of trying a food before they know if they like it or not.
It’s also common for kids to shy away from vegetables, in fact, they’re predisposed to do so because of the bitter taste. And, children’s taste buds are much more sensitive than ours. Many American kids are also sensitive to spicy or strong flavors.
In other cultures, such as Indian, children are often consistently exposed to spicy foods while in-utero and through breast milk. In this case, they may tolerate and even prefer these strong seasonings.
How to help The Typical Eater continue to eat well: Eat together as a family and cook together too. Avoid labeling food as bad or forcing your child to try anything that they don’t want to. Your child is eating well, keep up more of what you’re already doing, but always be on the lookout for signs of increasing pickiness.
Type #2: The Average Picky Eater (3-5 points)
If you scored in this range, then your child is most likely an average picky eater, showing some strong preferences and possibly ignoring a food group. Most children go through a picky eating stage between 1 and 5 years old and naturally grow out of it as long they are given a variety of foods and maintain a mealtime routine.
Making special meals for the average picky eater that only include their favorite food can cause eating to snowball into extreme picky eating (the next category), which may require more intervention.
The average picky eater knows what they like and what they don’t. They usually have about 20-30 foods in their diet, but aren’t overly particular about brands or styles of food they enjoy. They also don’t have a total freak out if a different food is on their plate, but will often ignore it.
How to help The Average Picky Eater Eat Better: Make sure you always serve one food at a meal that they typically eat, but don’t give them food that’s different from the rest of the family. Avoid making negative comments about food and don’t tolerate your child making those remarks either.
Read more in The Complete Guide to Picky Eating
Type #3: The Extreme Picky Eater (6-12 points)
Extreme picky eaters (sometimes called problem feeders) typically eat less than 20 foods and throw a tantrum or gag when a new or different food is on their plate. The extreme picky eater drains parents and stress levels at meals are usually high. It seems there’s no way out of short order cooking and the thought of them eating a new food is like a pipe dream.
These kiddos often food jag and may only eat foods cooked a certain way or at a certain temperature. If the slightest thing is “wrong” with the food, they won’t eat it.
This is one of the reasons that parents feel so stressed, you never know if your child is going to eat.
One other key element of this type of picky eater and the next is that there is an underlying cause that’s making it difficult for your child to eat which can range from sensory issues to oral motor weakness.
How to Help the Extreme Picky Eater: First of all, read the strategies listed for the average picky eater and the ultra picky eater because those will be important for you too. In addition to those, focus on getting meals on a schedule so that your child has a good 3 hours in between meals. This helps adjust their appetite and makes them hungry when they sit down to eat!
Make sure that you only give them water in between meals because even a little milk or juice can affect their appetite!
Type# 4: The Ultra Picky Eater (13 -18 points)
The Ultra Picky Eater is a term only I use, and it’s basically an extreme picky eater that’s highly limited. Kids in this category only have a few different foods that they eat day in and day out. Parents might serve the same 2, 3, or 4 foods every single day.
Birthday parties are stressful either because they can’t stand to watch others eat different food or can’t stand to be so close to other foods.
A child in this category may also have low-weight and growth because they aren’t eating enough.
If you’re a parent of an ultra picky eater, you likely feel like your kid is so severe that nobody can relate because their picky eating is on a whole other level.
It’s also possible that they would qualify for a Pediatric Feeding Disorder (PFD) diagnosis. It’s a long overdue diagnosis to differentiate kids in this category from average picky eaters, but was only officially created in the fall of 2021 so you might not have heard of it.
How to help The Ultra Picky Eater: First of all, take a deep breath and realize that there are many layers to picky eating. And, that no matter how limited your child’s diet is, it can improve. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the most extreme cases. Start by not pressuring your child to eat and use a small side plate to start serving family style, see if they can serve themselves a small amount.
If that’s too big of a leap, then start by having them pass the food. Any interaction they have is a step in the right direction.
The key is to begin to associate eating with something positive. For more on this important strategy, and several other’s I highly recommend watching our free 3 Keys to Turn Your Picky Eater Around workshop!
Are You A Therapist Helping Kids with Picky Eating?
If you want a detailed screening tool to use over and over again with the feeding kids on your caseload check out the Picky Eating Hierarchy: A Screening Tools for Feeding Difficulties in Kids. It includes a self reported assessment that you guide the parents through and the results show potential underlying causes and which type of picky eater they are.
You’ll also get a Feeding Therapy Observation Form, the one I wish I always had as a therapist! Click here to check it out in the shop!
More on Picky Eating
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 18 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.