Eating (or NOT Eating as the Case May Be)

I hear so many kids have sensory issues when it comes to eating.

Won't eat this or only will eat that, and the funny part is that is NOT my Gabriel.

My Gabriel will eat virtually anything.

For Easter the month before he was two, he ordered Crab Cakes for brunch. And he ate every last bite.

To this day, he always asks for Crab Cakes for his birthday. Mmmmm.

He also has enjoyed anything spicy since he was a toddler.

We used to take him to this restaurant, in a strip mall by our house (we only had HIM at the time, so don't envision anything crazy--these were actually relaxing dinners out), weekly if not more--everyone there was SO in love with him, and so supportive of our desire to adopt him---

...anyway, he would eat the salsa out of the bowl with a spoon.

Crying the whole time.

Tears running down his face from the heat of the salsa, as he shoveled in and ordered more all while saying, "MORE. MORE." Which at the time was one of the few words he knew.

We later realized that this is a big part of this sensory SEEKING behavior.

Gabriel is crazy-oral and he loves to get spicy foods into his mouth.

He even goes through about a bottle of hot sauce a week. So much, in fact, that it drives me utterly crazy that I spend so much time seasoning (make that over-seasoning) the food I cook, that when he puts the hot sauce on it I can't help but feel offended. Ugh.

But for us, this really isn't an issue. It is a non-issue.

Having a child that wants to adventure into hot sauces, both Asian and Latin American inspired, he is pretty easy to please.

He has his challenges with foods being "mixed", like he loves everything in chili, and the taste, but is often annoyed that all of the ingredients are mixed up. Especially the stewed tomatoes which are always the first to be picked out of any dish.

All of that said, it is my Nicholas and his "Tactile Defensiveness" that has the most ridiculous, drive-you-to-pull-your-hair-out food issues.

Here is what he WILL eat (shorter than writing what he won't):

PB (He lives on this stuff. Really.)
Crackers (Wheat Thins, Goldfish, Graham)
Pizza (Pepperoni only)
Chicken Nuggets (McDonald's or Wendy's, usually, at home ONLY microwaved dinosaur--not the new Mickey version from Costco--that damn Costco!)
Refried beans
Tortilla Chips (plain potato chips are usually OK too)
Oats & Honey Granola Bars (a recent addition that has become part of the PRIMARY diet)
Instant Oatmeal (Maple and Brown Sugar ONLY)
White Rice (but he only likes the sticky kind, not the basmatti I have in the rice maker)
Junk Food (cookies, cake, candy, but he usually only wants the vanilla flavored)
Yep, that's about it right now.

OK, so this isn't a bad list--really it could be worse, and I work hard to make sure that no one item is removed from this list--the variety needs to stay.

But so many people I talk to have children that have similar eating habits, sometimes worse, and sometimes better. That doesn't stop it from driving me crazy.

So, this is what we did:

We had him go to OT once a week, for 6 months (we stopped when school started up) for tasting new foods with another child the same age with similar issues—nice to do it in a group activity. He is allowed to smell the new food, lick it, put it in his mouth and spit it out, or simply bite and chew it (a “No Thank You Bite”). This is SEPARATE than meal time which allows him not to have the pressures of having to eat something to fill him up with his mother standing over him, and it is more like a game. It has helped expand his eating immensely, albeit very slowly.

Through this process he added apple slices, lettuce, bread (that’s a big one for me, making sandwiches possible over the summer, but we have pretty much lost it in the last few weeks), apple juice and a few others. He is more willing to try things at home—actually asking to try things without me having to request that he do so. The point here is that what he is willing to eat is expanding…that is what I am looking for ultimately…a little more each month (or year!).

This process has also allowed us to STOP fighting about food. I hate the battle over what he eats almost as much as the fact that he won’t eat anything I cook! I feel like we are both doing our best, asking for help from our OT, and working to address keeping him healthy. No control battle, just teaching. Giving the control back to him was a relief for him, I am sure, but also a HUGE relief for me—I don’t need more things to worry about!

I would encourage you to try this with your OT if your child's food issues are driving your family crazy, but would also highly recommend for your own sanity that you try to let it go as best as possible. Give your child a vitamin (mine actually won’t eat these, not even the gummy ones), and sneak in what you can (remember that cereal and fish crackers fortified, not the best way to get vitamins and minerals into him, but better than nothing).

Obviously I am not a doctor, so please check with yours to verify the health of your child.

If you are unsure about the idea of "letting it go", or think it sounds too much like "giving in" then I highly recommend using Collaborative Problem Solving, I highly suggest you read the book (The Explosive Child) which will help you figure out how to choose your battles and make meal time (and other issues) a win-win for you and your child.

Food for us is in the "not worth a meltdown" category. It really is not that important to me that he eat something else that I would sit at dinner every night and argue, yell, punish, force food on or other wise engage in a crazy control battle with my willful child. : )

It is important to me that he stays healthy and that I am as stress free as possible. That can be accomplished, believe it or not, on a strictly PB and Crackers diet. I've seen it with my own eyes.

So for anyone out there having an eating battle at home--with a SPD kiddo, an ASD kiddo, or just an every day NT kiddo, I say, "Let it go." And today would be a good day to start.

Enjoy your lunch, whatever adventurous, or not-so-adventurous, option you prefer,


PS: Photo is of Nick's favorite lunch item...OK, technically, the only lunch he eats. Yes, people, he eats one of these "to go" cups of PB with a granola bar dipped in every day for lunch. With milk. White milk ONLY (his choice). Sure makes packing lunch easy! Ah...the sliver lining.


pickel said...

Yes, very sensory seeking. My oldest is opposite. He wouldnt eat anything and didn't know how to chew until he was almost 3.

BTW, thanks for the comment on GIMH.

emmabenefiel said...

I agree that damn Costco for switching the nuggets, i was so mad when that happened.


Nancy said...

It's a constant challenge, isn't it? I figure, be grateful for what they do eat, cut out as much junk as possible, get the vitamins into them any way you can (esp. flax seed oil or fish oil), serve the healthy foods ad nauseum, and work on expanding their menu allllllll the time without making it a struggle. Oh yes, so easy to do. :)
Does Gabriel suck on lemons, crave pickles, or like really sour food?
Our saving grace has been crudite and steamed salt, not butter, no sauce, no mixed textures. It took years to get him to his current range but whatever else, I can say he now eats many different vegetables.

Hartley said...

Hi Nancy,

Yes, Gabriel likes sour foods -- he loves lemons speciically. :) I can get him to eat almost anything. When he is over tired, he will often refuse mixed textured foods that otherwise he would eat. But, anything he can put hot sauce on, any Mexican food, or any seafood he will absolutely EAT. More than me actually. LOL

Thanks for the comment -- Gabe definitely prefers crunchy textured food (raw veggies, especially celry dipped in cream cheese), so expanding that is a great idea!


Cari said...

This is old, I know :)

My 8yo is a horrible eater. Your list of acceptable foods is longer than his was a few years ago. After 2 years on the wait list he's in Speech at a private center. She plays games with him and in between turns he takes bites. He gets to pick anything he wants even if it's unhealthy. So far he's added oranges and apples! This is the first he's added foods in years! It's a struggle, but we're getting there.