I’m often asked by parents “how do I know if I have a picky eater?” I’ve been helping parents support their kids to eat well for over a decade now. Which is long enough to see many labels and terms come and go: ‘picky eater’, ‘selective eater, ‘fussy eater’, ‘super taster’, ‘ARFID’, ‘sensory concerns’, and ‘problem feeder’ just to name a few. To tell the truth, I don’t care much for labels.
When parents are asking “how do I know if my child is a picky eater”, I believe that what you’re really saying is
“I’m worried about my child’s eating. Feeding my child is causing me stress. Is this normal or do I need help?”
While I don’t care much about labels for kids’ eating, here’s where I’ll get specific about language. It’s the idea of ‘normal’. ‘Normal’ has two components in how we understand it. ‘Normal’ incorporates both ‘common/frequent’ and ‘how things should be’.
Is It ‘Normal’ For Kids to Be Picky?
Yes and no. Here are the specifics.
Yes, at about somewhere around 2 years of age, kids go through a developmental stage where they are not keen on trying new foods. And, they go through a stage where they request the same foods over and over again. So in this respect, picky eating is ‘how things should be’ – i.e. normal.
However, it’s common that we adults respond to children undergoing this developmental stage by:
- Making multiple meals – separate meals for different family members,
- Negotiating with your child for 2 more bites,
- Giving constant snack handouts.
These types of responses are common, yes. But they’re not a helpful response. So, they are ‘frequent’ but not ‘normal’. In other words, just because it’s how you were parented, or it’s what you see other parents doing, it’s not ‘normal’ for family mealtimes to be this way.
What I share with you here on my website, in my workshops, and when working with families one-to-one, is how to respond in a helpful manner so that while your child is in the ‘picky eating’ phase, your child meets their nutrition needs and you help them move through this challenging period more quickly and with grace. So that how you parent around food matches with your values and with how you parent around the rest of your child’s life.
So, how do I respond when parents call me asking “how do I know if my child is picky?”. I answer by saying:
- If feeding your child is causing you stress, this is not normal. I can help.
- If you’re worried that your child isn’t meeting their nutrition needs because they eat so few foods, this is not normal. I can help.
- If you and your partner (or your child’s grandparents) are arguing about how best to handle you child’s feeding, this is not normal. I can help.
- If your child isn’t yet at the picky eating stage and you want to make sure that you don’t start some bad habits, I can help.