Feeding difficulties in children are a common problem faced by parents and caregivers and can be categorized into two main types: fussy feeders and problem feeders.

Fussy feeders are children who have a limited range of foods that they are willing to eat. They may be hesitant to try new foods or refuse to eat certain textures or flavours. Fussy feeders are often described as “picky eaters” and may require some encouragement and exposure to new foods in order to expand their diet.

Problem feeders, on the other hand, have more severe feeding difficulties. They may have a very limited range of accepted foods, often as few as 20 or fewer, and may become distressed or refuse to eat if presented with a new food. Problem feeders may also have difficulty with the sensory aspects of eating, such as the texture, taste, or smell of food.

Issues with feeding can often be a red flag for the possibility of other developmental delays. Both fussy feeders and problem feeders can lead to nutritional deficiencies and impaired growth and development. It is important for parents and caregivers to seek help if they are concerned about their child’s feeding habits.

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A multidisciplinary team, including a paediatrician, registered dietitian, occupational therapist, and speech-language pathologist, can work together to identify and address the underlying causes.

Treatment may involve gradually introducing new foods, providing sensory-based feeding therapy, and addressing any medical or behavioural factors that may be contributing to the problem.

With proper intervention and support, fussy feeders and problem feeders can learn to expand their diets and develop healthy eating habits. It is important for parents and caregivers to be patient and consistent in their approach, and to seek professional help if they are struggling to address their child’s feeding difficulties.

Top tips for dealing with fussy eaters:

  • Offer a range of nutritious foods at each meal, including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, and lean protein. This can help expose fussy eaters to different textures, flavours, and colours.
  • It can take multiple exposures to a new food before a child will try it. Be patient and keep offering new foods in a non-pressure environment.
  • Eliminate distractions like TV or toys during meal times.
  • Involve children in meal planning and preparation such as choosing a recipe or helping with food prep.
  • Offer small portions of new foods to prevent overwhelming a child’s sensory system.
  • Encourage children to feed themselves, even if it means making a mess.
  • Create a positive and relaxed environment during mealtimes by engaging in conversation and avoiding pressure to eat.
  • Show your child that you enjoy eating a variety of healthy foods by modelling healthy eating behaviours.
  • Avoid forcing or bribing a child to eat.
  • If fussy eating is causing stress or nutritional concerns, seek professional help.

Top tips for problem feeders

  • Consult with a paediatrician, registered dietitian, or feeding specialist if you have concerns about your child’s feeding habits. They can assess your child’s nutritional status and help develop a plan.
  • Keep a record of what your child eats and drinks each day to help identify patterns or triggers.
  • It can take time and patience to help a problem feeder expand their diet. Avoid pressuring or forcing your child to eat.
  • Introduce a variety of textures and flavours in small portions to help your child become more comfortable with different foods.
  • If your child has difficulty with the sensory aspects of eating, sensory-based feeding therapy may be helpful. A trained occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist can provide this type of therapy.
  • Consistency is key when dealing with feeding difficulties. Stick to regular meal times and offer a variety of foods at each meal.
Ollwyn Moran

Ollwyn Moran, is the founder and CEO of Cognikids. Ollwyn has an M.Sc in Education and works in the field of NeuroDevelopmental Psychology. For more information visit cognikids.com.

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