Fussy Eaters

By Rowan Stewart | July 21, 2015

It is not uncommon for children to become finicky with food between the ages of one and four years.

Twenty-five to forty-five percent of normally developing children and as many as 80 percent of developmentally delayed children are reported with a feeding problem. Infants with a broad interest in foods offered in the early stages of weaning may refuse once-accepted foods and become unwilling to try new foods (neophobia). This is a well-known stage of child development. Behaviours commonly seen around mealtimes include tantrums, extreme dislikes and food fads. These behaviours can cause parents frustration, however are usually normal and transient and resolve with clinical intervention.

For some infants and young children, fussy eating continues and serious consequences such as growth failure and nutritional deficiencies emerge.

The following signs are indicators for referral to a dietitian:

  • Weight loss, static weight or poor weight gains
  • Long-term intolerance of differing food textures or resistance to the introduction of new foods
  • Crying or back-arching with most feeds
  • Crying or heightened anxiety when a new food is encouraged
  • Ongoing gagging, coughing or choking during meals
  • Oral-motor problems, e.g. chewing delay
  • Delayed self-feeding skills
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Long-term exclusion of entire food groups, e.g. refusal of all meats
  • Ongoing restricted range or variety; unable to introduce more than about 20 different foods
  • Bizarre eating habits, e.g. eating large amounts of frozen food or experiencing particular cravings for non-food items such as bark or dirt
  • Eating different foods from the rest of the family and preferring to eat alone
    Severe family conflict about meals


Normally Developing Children (25-45%)


Developmentally Delayed Children (80%)