When To Get Help For Your Picky Eater

Though picky eating is normal, some kids need extra help. Here are 10 signs to watch out for.

Picky eater not eating lettuce
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Some picky eating is a normal, predictable stage of development. Remember that sweet baby of yours who would happily gobble up anything you put on her highchair tray? She grew into a toddler who wanted more independence and learned to say "no"—and chances are, she started using that word at mealtime too!

Picky eating behaviors—rejecting formerly-loved foods, unwillingness to try new foods—usually crops up in the toddler years. And it drives most parents crazy! But how do you know if the dinner table drama and food refusals are just par for the course or something you should be concerned about? According to pediatric dietitian Jill Castle, you should consider whether your child's picky eating seems to be getting worse as she gets older instead of better (picky eating tends to start improving when kids reach elementary school). "Some children may become more ingrained in their picky eating as they get older, and managing it can get tougher," she says.

Castle says your child may also need extra help for her picky eating if she...

  • slowly but surely nixes foods from her "liked" list
  • will eat less than 20 foods
  • experiences weight loss or stagnant growth
  • refuses major food groups such as fruits, veggies, dairy, or protein
  • is willing to go days without eating
  • eats different foods from the rest of the family
  • is highly aware of food "imperfections", like flecks of black pepper or a change in food brands
  • shows social anxiety with eating, such as not wanting to go to parties, sleepovers, or restaurants because of food
  • demonstrates a very emotional response to new foods, such as crying, anger, or tantrums

So how do you get help? A good place to start is to ask your pediatrician for a referral to a dietitian, speech therapist, or occupational therapist who has experience with children's feeding therapy and complicated picky eating, says Castle. Before making an appointment, talk with the health professional about their philosophy and style of treatment to make sure you're comfortable with the approach.

For more help, get Jill's free guide, "Picky Eating Do's and Don'ts" here.

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Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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