We had a meeting for the therapists this past week, the topic of which was picky eaters and problem feeders.  In speech pathology, our practices often cover a wide range of seemingly disparate disorders and conditions, from post-stroke adults with impairments in language to children who are picky eaters.  Because the mouth, tongue, teeth, palate, and lips are used not only for speech but also for eating, we enter the realm of feeding and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). 

Part of our discussion was centered on differentiating problem feeders from “ordinary” picky eaters.  Children are notoriously picky eaters, refusing vegetables, insisting on only McDonald’s chicken nuggets, and covering everything with ketchup.  But some of these behaviors are typical, and other signal a more troubling feeding disorder.  For example, a picky eater may seem like he has a restricted diet, but, when pressed to list everything he eats, a parent may come up with at least 25 different foods, in each category of the food pyramid.  Maybe it’s heavy on the bread/grain category, and light on the fruit/veg.  Maybe he only eats chicken or fish when it’s heavily breaded or fried.  But he still eats a variety of foods and textures (some puree, some soft, some crunchy, etc.).   A problem feeder, by contrast, may eat fewer than 15 different foods, may leave out entire textures or food groups, or only eat “white” foods. 

Another aspect of childhood eating we discussed was “food jags”.  Though the term was unfamiliar, the concept was not.  Kids get “stuck” on certain foods, and may insist on them for weeks or months at a time.  Strawberries, rice krispies, string cheese, peanut-butter-and-chocolate-chip granola bars.  It could be anything.  My own brother subsisted on a relatively limited diet in his childhood and until he went away to college.  He smothered ketchup or tomato sauce on everything and ate the aforementioned granola bars every day.  I myself went through a period where frosted flakes and chocolate milk were the only breakfast to be had.  And I poured exactly 6oz of milk over my cereal from my special pitcher.  For years.  Mr. Apron insisted on corned beef sandwiches (with mustard, on a challah roll) for lunch for two years.  Reese’s peanut butter cups, 8 at a sitting, arranged in a circle, for snack in middle school.  Doritos.  Kit Kat Big Kat (not the mini bars).  Bianca (the famous sister-in-law) ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch every morning for 3 years.  Then she switched to Frosted Shredded Wheat. 

Point is, most kids go though these “food phases”.  They mysteriously grow out of them and move onto other things.  With problem feeders, it may be to the exclusion of everything else.  It may be that their diets are not remotely nutritionally complete.  But typical kids go through it, too. 

What are your memories of “food jags”?  How about your kids’ food preferences?  What do they get stuck on?