Picky Eating: Understanding and Addressing Mealtime Challenges

by | Feeding Therapy, Occupational Therapy

Is it normal for toddlers to refuse to eat certain foods? Are mealtimes a battle in your household? If your child only likes yogurt and pizza, you might wonder if that’s okay. Many parents and caregivers struggle to keep their child’s weight up due to limited diets. If this sounds familiar, read on to learn more about picky eating and how to address it effectively.

Understanding Picky Eating

You might think that if a child is hungry enough, they will eat. While this is true for 94% of children, there are 6% who will not eat regardless of how appetizing the food looks. If your child has a repertoire of 30 foods or less, they are considered a picky eater. If they have 20 foods or less, they are considered a problem eater. These limited diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies and growth concerns.
feeding therapy picky eating
feeding therapy picky eating

How Michigan Pediatric Therapy Can Help

At Michigan Pediatric Therapy, we specialize in helping children overcome feeding challenges. Here’s how our approach addresses both motor skills and sensory processing issues that contribute to picky eating.

Motor Skills 


Postural Stability and Muscle Tone:

Children need good postural stability and muscle tone to eat comfortably. If a child is worried about falling, they tend to get up, walk around, and graze, which can interfere with consistent eating habits.

Oral Motor Skills:

Adequate jaw, lip, tongue, and cheek strength are crucial for proper chewing and biting. We assess these areas to ensure your child can handle a variety of food textures.


Choking and Gagging:

Frequent choking, gagging, or coughing can be signs of underlying issues that need to be addressed to make mealtime safer and more pleasant.

Breathing and Eating Coordination:

Proper coordination between breathing and eating is essential to prevent choking and ensure a smooth feeding process.

Fine Motor Skills:

Being able to use utensils and pick up food with a pincer grasp is important for self-feeding. We work on these skills to promote independence at the table.
feeding therapy picky eating

Sensory Processing 

feeding therapy picky eating

Eating involves integrating input from all six senses. Sensory processing issues can make this challenging for some children.


1. Touch:

We help children become comfortable with different food textures. This includes being able to touch the food with their hands and tolerate it touching their lips or tongue.

2. Taste:

Sensitivity to certain tastes can lead to food refusal. We work on gradually introducing new flavors in a non-threatening way.

3. Smell:

Overreacting to food smells can cause gagging or vomiting. We help desensitize children to strong food odors.

4. Hearing:

Some children are sensitive to the sounds of food, such as crunching or squishing. We address these auditory sensitivities to make mealtime more comfortable.

5. Vision:

If a child refuses to eat foods that look “awful” or “yucky,” we use visual desensitization techniques to make new foods more acceptable.

6. Proprioception:

Children who only eat crunchy foods may be seeking specific sensory input. We provide alternatives that meet their sensory needs while expanding their diet.

Food Jags 

Does your child insist on eating the same food, same brand, prepared the same way every day at each meal? This is known as a food jag. While this can be acceptable for a while, the child will eventually burn out on the food they previously accepted. Unfortunately, once they burn out on that particular food, it is likely lost from their diet permanently. We help prevent and manage food jags to maintain a varied and balanced diet.
feeding therapy picky eating

Our Approach

At Michigan Pediatric Therapy, we act as detectives to identify whether your child is a picky eater or a problem eater. We then determine which motor and sensory systems are affected. Our comprehensive approach involves individualized treatment plans tailored to your child’s specific needs. It can be a long process, but we work side-by-side with you and your child to climb this mountain and add more foods to their diet.

Contact Us

If mealtimes are a struggle and you’re concerned about your child’s eating habits, don’t hesitate to seek help. At Michigan Pediatric Therapy, we are committed to helping your child achieve better eating habits and overall well-being.

Give us a call to schedule an appointment and start your child’s journey to better eating habits today!

📞 (248) 939-4030
🌐 mipediatrictherapy.com

Let’s work together to make mealtimes enjoyable and nutritious for your child!

Our Space

Nestled in Farmington Hills, Michigan, our space exudes a homely ambiance, providing a welcoming contrast to a typical medical setting. Vibrant and inviting, our facility is designed to make children feel at ease and foster their well-being. The treatment rooms boast comfort and color, creating a pleasant environment. Additionally, our beloved play-based sensory room adds an element of excitement, making therapy sessions something children eagerly anticipate.

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