It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is writing an article on picky eaters. It appears to be an epidemic with the last few generations of children. Our family is no exception to this latest "trend" of parenting headaches facing parents today. However plentiful these articles and books are on the subject, it seems that the majority of them miss the ball on picky eaters.
You see there are picky eaters trying to exert control, picky eaters due to lack of exposure to healthy foods, picky eaters with no explanation or other factors, and then picky eaters with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or some other neurological impairment such as Autism. There is a big difference between the first three and SPD.
For years, our prediatricians (we had several) all told us Brayden would out grow his eating struggles around age five. Well, age five came and went and we were faced with much more than picky eating. This is so hard for people to comprehend. If you put good food in front of a hungry child, he will eat it, right? For most kids, yes, but for Brayden no. In fact, Brayden has come very close to hospitalization for starving himself in the past. Something as simple as a cold can make it impossible for him to eat food. Even ice cream! Another concept that is hard for others to conceive.
I'm lucky enough <insert sarcasm> to have both a picky eater and a child with a food aversion so let me tell you a few differences. First of all, my son with the food aversion physically can not consume many foods. In fact, a crumb on the table makes it impossible for him to even sit there. The thought of eating certain foods will make him gag. His mouth is oversensitive to the textures of food so any flaw in the make up of a certain food triggers this reflex.
Now my Teagan, who is a picky eater, has strong preferences for the same foods. There is a direct correlation though to the types of foods she has and what she will eat. If she is given sugar foods, she will refuse healthy foods. But the longer she is given the healthier foods, the more she eats of them. She is sensitive to the textures of foods as well but doesn't show the psychological distress her brother shows when forced to try them. She is responsive to a reward chart for trying foods whereas Brayden is stressed by the thought because he knows his body won't let him get those rewards.
There is a huge difference between these two but there is one thing in common that most professionals seems to miss the mark on. Both of their eating habits are negatively influenced by commercial and processed foods. Much of America's diet is atrocious and it becomes harder and harder for kids these days to make good choices. When you have a picky eater, seeing their peers eat these foods just makes it even harder for them to eat their healthier choices. Processed foods are addicting and void of the nutrition our children need. Even if they are fortified with vitamins, there are micro and macro nutrients that you simply can't duplicate with vitamins. The first taste many toddlers get of processed foods can set them up for a lifetime of struggles with eating.
Think about if your child never ever had a single processed food as a toddler? Even if they were picky, they would still eat healthy choices because it is all they know. Somewhere my son's diet took a terrible turn for the worse and then I was faced with the struggle of keeping weight on him versus only giving him healthy food.
So what do you do with these picky eaters? For my son, he has to have intensive therapy to work on strengthening his oral motor muscles so he can physically eat healthy foods. For my daughter, food chaining and making only healthy choices available seems to work well.
We are working hard on making changes for our son and this is our current plan. We have identified the non processed foods he will eat. This includes bacon, apples, yogurt, baked goods (only made by me though), cheese and apple sauce. Our newest plan is to only serve him these foods but make other healthy choices available that he can tolerate looking at and might find palatable. We are supplementing with Grass Fed Whey Protein and a probiotic to help heal his gut and add calories.
For our daughter, we are establishing table rules that everyone has to follow. We are making sure she has one choice she likes at every meal but then we pick the rest. I know she won't starve so I'm able to be a bit less relaxed with her.
The other element that is very important for any picky eater is allergy testing. It is very common to have a child stuck on certain foods such as dairy or breads only to find that they are allergic to them. Our Brayden is allergic to many foods and we never would have known if I hadn't requested allergy testing. I wish it was a standard practice at well visits because allergies to foods seems to be the newest epidemic facing our children. But we will save that discussion for another day...
So do you have a picky child? Did this give you any ideas?