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What is a Picky Eater?

While there are no hard-and-fast rules about what defines a picky eater, there are many helpful guidelines you can follow. In the sections below, I define the two important terms, picky eating and courageous eating. I encourage parents to keep in mind that most children fall somewhere along the continuum between the two.

Picky Eating vs. Courageous Eating

There is more than one definition of a “picky eater.” One commonly used in research articles is as follows:

“…unwillingness to eat familiar foods or try new foods, severe enough to interfere with daily routines to an extent that is problematic to the parent, child, or parent–child relationship” (Taylor et al., 2015)

This can look different for each child. This can be the child who eats only 10 foods, the child who only eats white foods, the child who refuses new foods, or the child that will only eat “kid” foods. Or the child that is somewhere in between. Some parents would come to me because they had concerns that their child wasn’t getting the nutrients they needed because they only ate bagels, grapes and crackers. Some were sick of cooking 3 different meals for their 3 different children.

Whatever the reason, the common factors between these families were:

  • Mealtimes were a source of stress
  • Parents were concerned about their child’s eating habits (and usually health)
  • The child was hesitant (or even terrified) to try new or non-preferred foods
  • …and parents were at a loss about what to do about it

As my daughter knows, sometimes the thought of a new food can be a bit overwhelming!

What is a courageous eater?

I use the term “courageous” instead of “good” because I certainly don’t want to imply that there are any “bad” eaters out there. There are nervous eaters, sensitive eaters, strong-willed eaters, sensory-sensitive eaters, fast eaters, slow eaters, but there are no bad eaters.

A courageous eater is one that is willing to play with, interact with, and try new foods:

  • One that you can take to any restaurant and know you’ll find something on the menu they will eat
  • One that enjoys mealtime and even looks forward to eating with their family
  • One that says “Mommy, what’s for dinner tonight?” excited to find out what they will be eating that evening

Will they clear their plate at every meal? No. Will they love every meal you make? No! Will their favorite foods will be plain raw vegetables? Not necessarily, but don’t rule that out either. With a little help, I hope your child can become a courageous eater too!

What does the journey to courageous eating look like?

The first step is to change your expectations. If you assume your toddler or young child will be picky and only eat chicken nuggets and fries (because that’s what you think all young children do), then that’s what they will do. Instead, assume that your child will be a courageous eater, they just need some help and guidance to get there.

The first step is to change your expectations

The journey will look different for each family. Some children are hypersensitive to touch, taste, and smell which makes them more hesitant to try new foods and may require you to expose them to foods more times than a child without these sensitivities. Some children are just strong-willed and will put up a fight about anything (toddlerhood is a beast!), so you will need to push through with the strategies taught in these courses. There will be a lot of playing with and talking about food, sitting together as a family at mealtimes, and creating a low-pressure environment where a child feels comfortable interacting with and trying new foods.

If you are starting this journey and your child is older, it will work, it will just take more time (and patience). It may take months (or longer) to undo the picky eating that has occurred for years.

Between my experience working with other people’s children as an occupational therapist (OT) and with my own (as an OT and mom), I have created micro-learning video series that is research-based, family-friendly and practical. It is also flexible, so that you can go at your own pace and do what you’re comfortable with:

  • The Courageous Eaters School is designed for children 18 months of age and up
  • The Courageous Easter Prep School is designed for babies 4 to 18 months of age

The earlier you start, the shorter the journey. If you start with the right habits and routines when your child is an infant, you can set yourself up to have a courageous eater with minimal effort. Starting good mealtime habits and routines from the beginning and continuing them on through the tough toddler years will help your child become, and remain, a courageous eater.

It’s never too late, or too early, to start!

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About Me

My name is Kim Reid and I created Intentional OT to help parents solve picky eating while making family mealtime more enjoyable!

As an occupational therapist in the pediatric setting, I saw a wide range of families who needed help with picky eating. As a mom, I saw a need in my community to solve the frustration that picky eating brings to a family.

Whether mealtime is a struggle or you just want your child to become a more adventurous eater, I hope my online courses and consultations help you enjoy mealtime with your little (or big!) ones.

© - Intentional OT LLC