Picky Eating vs. Problem Feeding with Children

Posted on 11/28/2017 by Rachel Linden, M.A., CCC-SLP

 

People tend to choose a career path based on what they enjoy doing or a special skill they possess. I have always enjoyed working with children, so a career like speech language pathology suited me. Once I started my major courses in college, I found that speech language pathology didn’t just suit me, it helped turn my greatest personal weakness into my passion.

Food preferences are a personal choice, but our tastes typically adapt and change as we grow. Eating should be an easy and natural thing, seeing as we eat at least three times a day, but it doesn’t always pan out that way. There’s picky eating and then there’s problem feeding.

As a young child, describing me as a picky eater would be an understatement. At times, I could be a problem feeder. Living on “kid food” such as macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly was just fine with me. It always had to be the same brand, and my sandwiches had to be cut into triangles. No big deal; I was just a kid and would grow out of it, right?

As I got older, these habits stayed with me and food experiences became more difficult. I was anxious about birthday parties, sleepovers, meals with friends and dates, on edge about the available food options. There were some strategies I used to get by, like eating beforehand or stuffing snacks in my bag, but planning my life around food was difficult.

With marriage and family, life is about compromise and working together. My husband and I have had multiple conversations about my eating habits to ensure we can both eat and be happy. I’ve found success personally using some of the same treatment approaches that help my young clients and my son to become better eaters and enjoy less stressful mealtimes.

It took most of my life to realize that feeding contributed to the way I thought of myself, as well as my relationships with others. Through feeding training, I’ve been able to provide children and their families with interventions starting at a young age. Intervention provides a means to increasing skills and looking at foods in a new and more positive way, thus making mealtimes easier.

Feeding therapy using the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach focuses on developing the necessary skills for self-feeding as well as safe chewing and swallowing. The SOS approach uses a hierarchy to help the feeder gradually move toward their highest level of tolerance. Together, these approaches can expose the feeder to new foods and help him or her to increase their positive experiences with new and non-preferred foods.

Picky eaters are not the only children who can benefit from feeding therapy. Children who have weight gain issues, oral motor deficits, limited oral intake and are transitioning off a feeding tube are candidates for feeding therapy. Children who are highly specific about brands, refuse food and experience difficulty transitioning to new textures are also candidates. Moreover, families who have “power struggles” at mealtimes or children who display bad mealtime behavior may benefit from feeding therapy.

Therapy meals address behaviors, sensory responses to food, oral motor improvements and diet expansion. A meal is set up to remove distractions to allow for a “family style” meal. Each food is presented one at a time to increase tolerance to the offered food. Therapeutic assistance is provided to move a child up the feeding hierarchy to their highest point of tolerance and then the next food is presented. Mealtime rules and positive language about mealtimes and food is an essential part of feeding therapy to build trust and learn expectations.

If you suspect your child might be a picky or problem feeder, ask your NovaCare or Select Kids speech therapist about opportunities to expose them to exciting new food experiences.

Rachel LindenBy: Rachel Linden, M.A., CCC-SLP. Rachel is a speech language pathologist with NovaCare Kids Pediatric Therapy in Crystal Lake, IL. She has been practicing since 2013 and is committed to helping children live their best lives!