CHARLOTTE – Many parents are struggling with the same issue at mealtime. Their child/ren are stuck in the pizza, nugget, and mac and cheese diet plan. It is a struggle that many children and parents go through each time a meal is placed in front of them. All children have their favorite foods and will by nature want to have those foods at each meal, but the question is: do you have a picky eater or a child with an eating disorder? While the plan that is placed to work through either is relatively the same strategy, it is always important to address the concern.
If you are wondering if you have a picky eater or a child that is struggling with a food-eating disorder, the first place to address the concern is with the child’s pediatrician. A pediatrician is able to advise parents and work through the steps that need to take place to determine how to help the child overcome mealtime issues. Typically the process starts with a couple of evaluations. The evaluations will work much like an investigation. Specialists will work together to address whether the child is struggling with a physical issue or is a picky eater that just likes to eat certain foods. The main difference that separates the two are the “signs” at mealtime.
Typically children that are picky eaters will only eat certain foods, like chicken nuggets and other favorites, but since they like chicken nuggets, they will eat them from any restaurant or different styles. They still struggle with a limited diet but will accept foods from different food groups with different textures. When you have a child that is struggling with an eating disorder, typically those children have a physical reaction to different foods, like gagging. When a new food is introduced or a different food/texture is placed in front of the child or they see a new food or texture, the reaction is typically uncontrollable. The uncontrollable action can be caused by various textures, colors, and/or the introduction to new or different types of foods.
Both picky eaters and children with eating disorders need to have the issues addressed. The first step is to always meet with your child’s pediatrician and express any concerns that surround mealtime and nutritional intake. There are many ways to have the eating concerns addressed. The pediatrician may recommend a GI specialist to address any food allergies and other issues surrounding how a portion of food may make the child feel. There are children that have reactions to certain types of foods that may be causing them to not want to eat. The reaction can be allergy-related or the way that they feel when they eat those types of foods. Another recommendation is to have an Occupational Therapy evaluation. Children that are experiencing feeding issues can have a variety of needs that can be addressed through an evaluation and therapy treatment plans. Therapy can address a variety of eating-related issues, physical issues, motor skill delays, and/or oral and sensory issues.
It is important to address any issues related to picky eaters with their pediatrician if any concerns are presented during meal times. The sooner the issue is addressed, the earlier intervention can start and turn mealtime issues into a learning experience. “Getting a wide variety of food and nutrients naturally in your child’s diet sets them up for a lifetime of success with long-term health, but it also helps them immensely when it comes to being social,” says Natasia Tomlinson, a Novant Health Pediatric Dietitian who advocates for all parents with children experiencing picky eating habits or issues. “As they get older and transition into school age and adolescence, they start to eat more meals outside of the home where they’re making their own decisions around what foods they’re eating. For a child who’s not a picky eater, those different eating environments are much less anxiety-prone.”
Introducing new foods to a child can be a challenge, but there are many ways to be able to help children with “picky eating.” Making sure that they are not having a physical issue or any issues related to development is always the first concern. Making sure to talk to their pediatrician about concerns is always the first step. For more information about nutrient and mealtime-related issues visit https://kidshealth.org/ and https://www.healthychildren.org/.