How to Tackle Picky Eating (Part 2)
Welcome back to part 2 of How to Tackle Picky Eating. Why does your child not want to eat? Why do they like crunchy foods instead of soft? Puree foods instead of texture? Not eat (insert food here) all together? We are going to talk about some reasons your child is a picky eater. The reasons behind picky eating really do matter. The issues can continue on if the reason isn’t addressed and fixed. Here are a few reasons, all of which Kenzie had…talk about a doozy.
Medical issues must be ruled out or addressed. I’m being so serious right now. Now the medical issues range from allergies to GERD to constipation. McKenzie had GERD the first 19 months of her life and it was terrible. Even on the medicines, slower feeding pump rates and proper positioning, the GERD monster always found us. That in turn made her not want to eat. Now, it wasn’t until she went from throwing up 8 times a day to maybe 3 times a week that I started to see some improvement in her feeding. What medical challenges does your child have?
Does your child only eat puree or crunchy foods? Does your child like really spicy food or a lot of flavor? Prefers hot, cold or warm foods? I know these things because McKenzie has some sensory challenges. Because of this she processes the input differently and if she’s not receiving the input she needs, her eating is poor. Right now we are at the preferring crunchy 70% of the time. She was at 100% so I’m celebrating the drop in that percentage. She also likes very flavorful food…again…sensory input. Another thing you can do with kids who need a lot of input is play with them before mealtime (Kenzie liked being swung and tossed in the air). You can also do exercises with their mouth, tongue and gums to wake the nerve endings up.
Tongue-ties, cleft palate and any physical issue that makes it hard for them to eat. McKenzie has some lung issues so even in the NICU, she had a hard time with suck, swallow and breathe. She would get tired working on that part that she barely drank a bottle. Well, once we got past the aversion (next reason). This also includes not having enough oral motor skills to be able to eat safely and confidently. Pay close attention while they are eating and tell me what you notice?
For McKenzie, her bad experience started in the NICU being on the breathing machine longer than the doctors like. She developed an aversion but this wasn’t her only bad or aversive experience. She aspirated (food in airway or lungs) on food and liquids thinner than nectar at one point. Here are the categories and their consistency:
Thin 1 (water, juice & breast milk)
Thin 2 (Formula)
Half Nectar (between Formula and tomato juice)
Nectar (tomato juice)
As her oral motor skills slowly advanced, she was able to handle thinner consistencies safely. Not being able to handle consistencies resulted in choking (bad experience) as well. I’m sure I didn’t help in this area when I was trying to coerce her into eating or dream feeding her because she wouldn’t eat while awake. Anything during the feeding relationship that isn’t pleasurable for your child is a bad experience. What bad experience has your child had?
Acceptance and Understanding
Acceptance and understanding are extremely important in this process. Accept that your child has some challenges. A lot of things, well most of them, were out of my control regarding McKenzie but learning to accept our challenges early truly helped me think with a level head and make the best decisions for us. Denial only slows the process down. You can’t get to understanding until you accept where you are right now…not in the future…but right now.
I can talk to anyone about McKenzie because I understand her. I understand how her challenges and experiences have shaped our feeding. She avoided certain foods for a while because she had a bad experience or wasn’t confident that she could handle it. She wasn’t comfortable eating in public for a while because she’s sensitive to her environment. She eats really well with only me because she feels comfortable, safe and in control.
They adapted these behaviors to protect themselves from further distress. You won’t see that in denial. All you will see is a bad kid who doesn’t want to eat. They are NOT bad. Acceptance…Understanding. You will see these things from that place. Understanding allows you to partner with your child, empathize and build trust. And that my friends allows you to help your child better their relationship with food. It’s a very long road but take it one day…one crying spell (yours...not your child)...one tantrum...and one meal at a time.