• Children's Center

    Mayo Clinic Minute: How to deal with extreme picky eating in kids

Did you know your kid could have an eating disorder if he or she is extremely picky? Dr. Jocelyn Lebow, a Mayo Clinic child psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders, says it's called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

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"[Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder] is basically extreme picky eating," Dr. Lebow says. "Their food repertoire is so limited that they can't maintain their body weight, [and], they have health issues."

She says it can be a fine line, though, between normal child behavior and extreme pickiness.

"Your kid's weight goes on a curve," Dr. Lebow says. "If they fall off their curve, that's when you start to worry. And it doesn't matter, by the way, if their curve is at the fifth percentile, the 50th percentile or the 85th percentile. As long as your kid continues to track where he or she has always tracked, that's healthy."

But it can be a problem if your kid loses weight and fall off his or her curve. In that case, she says, you don't want to make meal-time World War III.

"If ... suddenly you're setting up a power struggle and, like: 'No, you have to eat. No, you have to eat,' you're kind of dooming yourself," Dr. Lebow says.

It can be even trickier for picky teens, so she suggests getting professional help. In the meantime, she says parents should do all they can to get their kid eating more of anything.

"[Parents should be] challenging them to eat bigger portions of the foods that are on their list of what they want to eat," Dr. Lebow says. "You know, when your kid falls off the curve, nutrition is not as important. Their body's not using nutrition the same way. So it's really about getting their weight back up before you start trying to get them to eat kale or something like that."