What’s the fuss about fussy eaters?


Date: 27 April 2021

By: Kayla Fourie

  • Reading time: 20 Mins

Mealtimes are often the only time in the day that all family members are together in one place. It provides an opportunity for families to spend quality time together and research indicates that it assists families in handling the stresses of daily life. For parents of picky/problem eaters, mealtimes might have the opposite affect and can be a very stressful experience. Before the age of 7, 1 out of 5 children experience difficulties with feeding at some stage in their life. Research shows that only half of those children will outgrow these difficulties without any intervention.  For parents of picky/problem eaters, mealtimes might be characterized by the descriptions illustrated below.

Despite popular beliefs that eating is automatic and instinctive, it is in fact a very complex task. According to Dr Kay Toomey (Developer of the SOS Approach to Feeding), feeding is the only task that involves all of the areas of human functioning. These areas include:

  1. Organ systems
  2. Muscle systems
  3. Sensory systems
  4. Learning
  5. Development
  6. Nutrition
  7. Environment

In order for children to eat well, all of these areas have to be functioning and interacting correctly. Often picky/problem eaters are labeled as being ‘naughty’ due to the avoidance behaviours they present with. It is important to be aware of the complexities of feeding and to recognize that your child’s reaction to food could stem from a skill deficit in one or more of the areas listed above.



The “Am I at Your Table” descriptions (illustrated above) can be seen as the tip of an iceberg, however, the areas below the iceberg are the root cause for these behaviours. The SOS approach to feeding offers a treatment plan that integrates all of the complex areas of feeding to comprehensively assess and manage feeding difficulties.

Identifying whether your child is a picky eater can be challenging. Sometimes, fussy eating habits could be a small phase that your child is going through. However, if your child shows signs of picky or problem eater, they will require support to eat a wider variety of nutritious meals. If you are concerned about your child’s feeding, follow the link below to complete the questionnaire on picky vs problem eaters:


What to do when your child is a fussy eater?

 Top 3 tips:
1) NEVER force feed your child. As you now know, feeding is a very complex process and your child’s refusal could stem from a physiological response in their body. Force feeding will only increase your child’s aversion to food.
2) Let your child EXPLORE a variety of foods without the pressure of having to eat.
3) Include all their SENSES by describing how the different foods look (e.g. the colour, size or shape), how it feels (e.g. hard, soft, wet or cold), how it smells (e.g.
sweet, spicy or savoury), how it would sound if we chew the food (e.g. crunchy) and finally if your child is ready, describe how it tastes (e.g. sour, sweet, salty).

It can be extremely worrisome and stressful to have a child that is a picky or fussy eater.  Know, that there are services available to assist you and your child on your journey from stressful to happy mealtimes. Contact us to find out more about the SOS approach and feeding therapy offered at Willow Worx.

All information retrieved from:

Kay A. Toomey, Ph.D. Developer, SOS Approach to Feeding, Pediatric Feeding Specialist, Pediatric Psychologist President, Toomey & Associates, Inc., Clinical Consultant, the Feeding Clinic @ STAR

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