The Difference Between Picky Eating & Selective Eating

Many children will go through a time of refusing certain foods. This usually occurs around the time the child begins to walk. They start to feel a sense of independence and as a result, refuse foods they once ate. That is considered picky eating. Selective eating is when a child will only eat foods they consider to be safe while avoiding foods that have particular textures, scents, or tastes.


There are some small differences between picky eaters and selective eaters. Picky eaters will accept 30 or more foods while selective eaters accept less than 20 foods. Selective eaters tend to limit food intake secondary to fear or anxiety, while picky eaters tend to limit food due to control. Picky eaters prefer a specific food for a lengthy period of time while selective eaters will reject many foods. Picky eaters may not have any medical issues while selective eating disorders have several medical reasons that impact their food intake such as food trauma, issues with swallowing or oral motor delays, or GI issues. A picky eater will eat if they are hungry while a selective eater will refuse food even when hungry.


If your child is considered a picky eater, it is possible for your child to limit food intake and over time (usually around age 5) they will begin to improve their food repertoire. If your child displays sensory issues, physical or medical concerns impacting their ability to eat you should notify your pediatrician. An Occupational Therapist and/or Speech Therapist is able to improve your child's food intake once they understand the underlying cause for the limited food.


It is possible your child is going to test you and challenge you during the toddler age to declare independence. However, if you notice your child has not improved their eating, is not receiving proper nutrition, and has not grown, you should notify your pediatrician so that you can receive the help your child needs to overcome their food aversions.


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