Sometimes discerning the difference between a ‘picky eater’ and a problem feeder can be difficult. Determining whether or not your child is a ‘picky eater’ isn’t easy. All children go through various stages of food exploration when they start to develop their taste preferences.

Whether your child is a picky eater or a problem feeder, they will most likely require support in order to learn how to eat a more varied diet. Here’s a snapshot of the differences:

Picky Eater Problem Feeder
Decreased range or variety of foods; typically has 30 or more foods in their Food Range. Restricted range or variety of foods; usually eats less than 20 foods.

Eats at least one food from most nutrition or texture groups (e.g. purees, meltable foods, proteins, fruits).

Can tolerate new foods on their plate; usually able to touch or taste food (even if reluctantly).

Refuses entire categories of food textures or nutrition groups (e.g. soft cubes, meats, vegetables, Hard Mechanicals ie. food that shatters in the mouth and does not rapidly melt).

Cries, screams, tantrums, ‘falls apart’ when new foods are presented; complete refusal.

Frequently eats a different set of foods at mealtimes than other family members.

Typically eats at the same time and at the same table as other family members.

Almost always eats a different set of foods than their family.

Often eats at a different time or in a different place than other family members.

Learn to eat new foods in 20 to 25 steps on a ‘Steps to Eating’ hierarchy. Requires more than 25 steps to learn to eat new foods.

Refer to

Eating is a complicated process. It involves:

  • Digestive systems
  • Muscles (including oral motor)
  • Sensory processing
  • Learning, behaviour, and cognition
  • Development
  • Nutrition
  • Environment

Whether your child is a ‘picky eater’ or ‘problem feeder’, early intervention can help. There are many types of feeding programmes available. One of them is Sequential-Oral-Sensory (SOS) feeding, which uses purposeful play, specific steps to eating and research, to guide the therapy process. The programme starts with increasing a child’s comfort level with food by allowing them to explore and learn about the different properties of food in a playful and non-stressful way. Children will then learn about how foods feel on their bodies and in their mouths and finally enjoy tasting and eating new foods!

Please consult the SOS-trained therapists at the CDC if you would like to know more.