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Picky Eaters or Problem Feeders? Why your “picky” child may actually have sensory issues!

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One family chose to delay their five year old from starting Kindergarten, scared that he wouldn’t eat anything all day at school. Before starting therapy, he was only eating one fruit and no vegetables or meat. His main source of calories was peanut butter, string cheese, and a few different types of crackers.

 Research shows that approximately 20% of kids have feeding difficulties. These children can be divided into two groups: picky eaters and problem feeders.

 A picky eater is a child who only eats foods from one category or only a few foods in each category. Picky eaters generally have a limited number of foods they will eat (about 30). Picky eaters will generally tolerate new foods on their plates, and will usually touch or even taste new foods.

Problem feeders are much more restrictive in the variety of foods they will eat, usually less than 20. It is not unusual for children who are problem feeders to have meltdowns when faced with a new food. These types of eaters generally refuse to eat entire categories of food textures.

Feeding issues are physical, not psychological or intentional. They are a result of skills deficit that can be treated. 

 STAR Center is home to the S.O.S. Approach to Feeding, a family-centered program designed to help children two months to 21 years, develop a healthy relationship with food. S.O.S. stands for Sequential Oral Sensory, as well as Save Our Ship – which is what many families feel like when they have a child who doesn’t eat well.

 The SOS Approach to Feeding Program is directed by Dr. Kay A. Toomey, PhD, who has over 30 years of experience and is nationally and internationally renowned as a leading expert in the assessment and treatment of children with feeding difficulties.

To help parents determine if their child fits in one of these categories, two different checklists are available on the Star Center website:

·      Picky Eaters vs. Problem Feeders

·      Red Flags

 Some families come to the STAR Center because mealtimes have turned into daily battles, or to help their child transition from supplemental tube feeding. Others come seeking help for their toddler who is struggling to transition from a bottle to a cup or from baby food to table foods. Many come seeking assistance for their toddlers and older children who have a very limited diet.

 “We arrived at the STAR Center desperate to help Simon (and our family). I sincerely did not know how to continue feeding Simon, and whether or not he would make it through a school day. I had spent several years seeking information and therapy and attempting to grasp the complexity of the problem. We are astounded at the level of expertise at STAR Center, and so thankful that our years of searching finally led us to the right place and the right people to get the help we needed. Our knowledge of Simon’s challenges has grown exponentially, and we have implemented a detailed plan at home for continued progress.”    -Francesca Garcia 

At STAR Center, Treatment is always fun and children are never forced to eat. The goals of therapy include ensuring a child can gain the skills needed to eat a more nutritious diet and creating positive associations with food for a lifetime.

 If you have concerns about your child’s mealtime skills, call the STAR Center at 303-221-7827 and ask to schedule a free intake to discuss your concerns and your child’s feeding history.

 STAR Center, a Colorado 501(c)(3), is the premier treatment center for children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder, feeding disorders, and other sensory issues associated with other conditions such as ADHD, autism, and a wide variety of additional developmental disorders. | 303.221.7827. Mile High Mamas partnered with STAR Center on this promotion.

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Michaela December 2, 2014

    We struggled our picky eater for YEARS and discovered way too late it was sensory. Problem eaters will gag or even vomit just watching others eat a food they don’t like. (Caution: sometimes this behavior grows out of forcing a child to “try” a food they don’t want.) We thought we were being good parents. We just made it worse.

  • comment avatar Farah December 2, 2014

    I’m with Michaela. Stop asking your child to eat, taste or try foods. In fact, STOP talking about food at all. Let your child explore foods on his or her own terms and at his or her own pace. This means looking, touching, smelling, tasting, and refusing. I always try to have at least one food I know they’ll like.

  • comment avatar Amber December 2, 2014

    I find this whole topic really fascinating. Though I’m sure my kids are most picky eaters, there have definitely been texture issues over the years.

    For a good friend, her little boy would not eat anything unless it was mashed up. Everyone criticized her for babying him and said she should just make him eat it normally. But turned out, he was a problem feeder for sure.