Tips for Parents: Questions and Answers About Food Selectivity
Source: Davidson Young Scholar Seminar
Monica Andis, the Program Manager of the Nutrition and Dietary Services at the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in Disabilities, answers questions about food selectivity. Questions are addressed for parents seeking information about their highly gifted children's eating issues and food sensitivities.
- Editors Note: Many parents of profoundly gifted children have expressed concern about how to deal with their children's eating issues. The Davidson Institute asked Monica Andis, the Program Manager of the Nutrition and Dietary Services at the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in Disabilities, to answer some of their questions about food selectivity.
What is food selectivity?
Food selectivity is the consumption of an abnormally limited variety of food. Technically, any child who eats fewer foods than normal and who avoids any foods could be called food selective. However, we usually reserve this term for children who avoid one or more entire food groups.
The four food groups are:
- cereals, grains, and starches
- protein foods (meats, eggs, cheese, legumes)
- fruits and vegetables
- dairy products
What is the difference between a "picky" eater and a "selective" eater?
Children who are labeled "picky" are described that way because they eat a limited number of foods from each food group. However, they usually do eat at least one food from each food group and do have more balanced diets than selective eaters. Children who are labeled "selective" have aversions to many more foods or have unusual aversions. For example, selective eaters may avoid all cereals, all meats, all cold foods, all foods with red color, all crunchy foods, all fruits and vegetables, etc. Many food selective children we see eat no more than a few foods. A typical food selective diet might include pizza, chicken nuggets, milk, and nothing else.
What causes food selectivity?
Some common causes of food selectivity are:
- Difficult medical history that affected interest in or ability to eat
- Tendency toward digestive problems such as reflux
- Chronic constipation
- Altered or heightened sensory perceptions of food
- Sensory integration problems
- Certain medical or genetic conditions--for example, autism
- Medications--some can alter sense of taste or texture
- Inadvertent history of parental reinforcement of food selectivity behaviors
Are there any good groups that can be avoided without compromising health?
The one food group that can be avoided without nutritional risk is dairy products. The nutrients found in dairy products can be found in foods in the other three food groups, and from sunlight (for adequate vitamin D). However, a child who does not eat dairy products must eat a good variety of foods from the other three food groups in order to make up for lack of dairy products. She/he must also have a good source for vitamin D, either regular exposure to sunlight, a vitamin supplement, or a vitamin D enriched milk substitute.
There is no other food group that can be avoided without compromising health, but there are individual foods that can be avoided without compromising health. Meats, for example, can be avoided as long as there are other good sources of protein present in the diet. A child who does not eat fruits but does eat many vegetables may still receive adequate nutrition. A child who avoids bread but eats other cereals, grains, or starchy foods may still meet his carbohydrate needs.
Reprinted with the permission of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. © 2008 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
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