Fussy eating can be a normal stage in a child’s development where, around 12-18 months of age, a child realises they can refuse what is offered to them. For most children, this phase will pass relatively quickly, while for others this problem may get progressively worse over the course of months or years until you find yourself in a situation where your child has a very limited range of different foods that they are prepared to consume. While most parents will refer to these children as being ‘extremely fussy eaters’, these children will often actually be ‘problem feeders’.
Signs your child may be a ‘problem feeder’
1. Your child’s repertoire of foods consumed is less than 20 different foods
2. Your child may have extended periods of time where they will only eat a certain meal “Food Jags” which, once their interest in the meal goes, they never want to touch that meal again (further reducing their repertoire of foods)
3. Your child cannot cope with the idea of having to try a new food and they may completely fall apart at the idea of it
4. The variety of foods consumed generally exclude whole food groups or textures
5. Your child almost always eat a different meal to that which is provided to the rest of the family
*adapted from “Picky Eaters vs Problem Feeders”, Dr Kay Toomey (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sometimes these problems occur after a child may have had a complex medical history which may have included periods of nasogastric feeding or the need for oxygen, severe reflux, lots of vomiting or coughing at meal times, or a child with a history of a traumatic choking episode. Exteme fussy eating often (but not always) presents in children who have been diagnosed with ASD, while for other children, there may be no predisposing cause of the feeding difficulties.
Regardless of the cause of the feeding problem, the earlier feeding therapy begins, the sooner your child will progress toward a more normal relationship with food and improved nutritional intake.