Perspectives on Early Childhood Psychology and Education

Submission Type



Picky eating and problem behavior during meals are commonly reported issues among young children, particularly toddlers (Manikam & Perman, 2000). It is estimated that up to 50% of children under the age of 5 experience difficulties during mealtimes (Benjasuwantep et al., 2013). These difficulties may include tantrums when nonpreferred foods are presented, turning their head away from bites, pushing food away, crying, spitting out bites of nonpreferred food, and holding bites in the mouth. Over time, these behaviors can lead to significant limitations in the variety and amount of foods that children consume, thus compromising their growth and development. While there are a variety of reasons a child may engage in these problem behaviors, the food refusal or selectivity often persists after other contributing factors have been resolved (Dobbelsteyn et al., 2005). A behavior analytic approach can be used to address mealtime problem behavior. These interventions are focused on changing aspects of the child’s environment and caregiver response in order to change the child’s behavior during meals. This approach has been well-evaluated in the literature, and many regard it to be the most effective intervention for treating children’s problem behavior during meals (Kerwin, 1999). The scope of this paper was to provide evidence-based behavior analytic recommendations to caregivers, teachers, and other early childhood therapeutic providers. Recommendations provided in this article are applicable to a variety of feeding difficulties that may present in early childhood. While recommendations discussed in this paper have been supported in the literature, research lacks a comprehensive instructional guide of best practices that can be used by providers with limited expertise or experience in feeding concerns.