The difference between “Picky Eaters” and “Problem Feeders”

Picky Eaters

Picky eating is a term used to reflect on feeding issues most commonly encountered during childhood. It can be quite difficult to pinpoint a clear definition of a picky eater, as they vary greatly. 

For some, it is when a child consumes a very limited variety of foods, for others it can be the unwillingness to try new foods, and it may even present as atypical, avoidant behaviors (i.e. tantrums, gagging, retching).

Picky eaters as those who consume an inadequate variety of food and reject a considerable number of foods that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Picky eating can also be characterized by rejecting foods based on their textures.

Problem Feeders

The definition of a problem feeder can sometimes be used interchangeably with that of picky eaters; however, problem feeders are more than just “picky”. They may require additional support to learn to eat a more varied diet. 

Problem feeders are defined as children who have a restricted range of food in their repertoire that is less than 20 different foods.

Key Differences

The key difference between “Picky Eaters” and “Problem Feeders” is found in the amount of food that can be counted as different foods a child consumes, meaning the variety in the types of food a child consumes. 

How do I know if my child is a picky eater or a problem feeder?

Analyze diet 

First, make a list of all the foods your child eats on a regular basis.

  • If your list consists of at least 30 different foods, your child may be a picky eater. 
  • If your list consists of less than 20 different foods, your child may be a problem feeder.

Be aware of their behavior 

Next, think about how your child reacts when you offer/ put new food on their plate.

  • If your child can tolerate seeing, touching, or tasting new food, even if they do so reluctantly, your child may be a picky eater.
  • If your child cannot tolerate the presence, sight, or smell of this new food around them and cry, tantrum, or lose their appetite altogether, they may be a problem feeder. 

Consider the variety of food 

Does your child eat at least one food from a variety of categories of food?

  • Picky eaters may eat one food and can tolerate a variety of textures and may be selective based on taste or amount of exposure.
  • Problem feeders refuse entire categories based on textures and feel and may lack the skills to eat those types of foods. 

Being able to consume a variety of foods helps provide a balanced diet and provides essential nutrients needed to promote healthy development and healthy bodies. All of this can influence your child’s physical, cognitive, behavioral, and communication development, and much more.


Whether your child is a picky eater or a problem feeder, a feeding evaluation along with feeding therapy may help identify deficits in sensory or oral motor abilities. Therapists work to find the root causes of why a child may be having difficulties tolerating or accepting a wider range of foods. Always Keep Progressing can help create an individualized plan to help your child reach their nutritional needs. 

What are the next steps you can take to obtain feeding therapy services?

To begin, speak to your pediatrician to obtain a referral for feeding therapy. Once you have this, reach out to our onboarding team at 786-206-4151 and let them know that you would like to get started with feeding therapy services and why. 

If you are currently already receiving Occupational or Speech therapy at our center, you will just need to get scheduled for a feeding evaluation with one of our feeding specialists, and then go through the insurance authorization process for treatment services.

If you do not currently receive any other services at our facility and only need feeding therapy, you will need to complete an intake call, submit your insurance card and feeding referral, and then go through the process to get evaluated and scheduled. We are here to help you along the way to get your child where they need to be in order to facilitate healthy or adequate nutrition/hydration for the wellbeing of their overall development!

Our experienced and trained feeding therapists implement a research-based therapeutic approach called the “SOS Approach”. If you would like to read more about this therapy method, click here:

Written by

By: Maria Morales M.S., CCC-SLP


Cardona Cano, S., Tiemeier, H., Van Hoeken, D., Tharner, A., Jaddoe, V. W. V., Hofman, A., … Hoek, H. W. (2015). Trajectories of picky eating during childhood: A general population study. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 48(6), 570–579. doi:10.1002/eat.22384 

Dr. Kay Toomey. (2019). SOS Approach To feeding, Picky Eaters versus Problem Feeders Brochure. 

Keep reading 

Related Articles 

10 Incredible Benefits of Art Therapy For Children

10 Incredible Benefits of Art Therapy For Children

Introduction Art therapy is the use of art-making and the creative process to support the more traditional therapeutic process.  Sessions are facilitated by a board certified, registered art therapist to address desired goals. Art therapy sessions will often...

Always Keep Progressing logo

Have your say 

Join the Conversation


Submit a Comment