At home,  Food

Taking steps forward with a fussy eater

Baby steps with a fussy eater (2)

Some of you may have read here before, that we have a middle child (now 6) who has struggled with food since he was 12 months old. After a short illness when he was 12 months, he recovered and was ‘off’ of his food for a bit. Nothing to be concerned about, our philosophy was to feed him what he wanted after he’d been ill. Days turned to weeks and his fussiness had set in for what turned out to be, a long time!

Oliver eating

Fast forward 5 years and we’re still struggling and working on improving his eating and range of foods he eats. We don’t feel like we did anything different to our first son when it came to food, but in hindsight (and the help on an occupational therapist we visited a few times), we think he may have eaten ‘soft’ food for too long, not explore with textures and getting really messy, and developed an adversity to textures and things that even ‘looked’ texturally ‘not-right’.

This meant, most things that were soft/squishy and his food repertoire, until recently consisted of:
– breads (no seeds, wholemeal ok, sometimes things like muffins if they weren’t too funky or had too much ‘hidden’ in them)
– honey-soy chicken on a skewer
– hamburgers or chicken burgers
– cheese
– most crackers, chips, popcorn
– carrots (usually 1 stick at dinner)
– bananas (but won’t take them to school)
– the occasional apple
– yogurt (plain with honey)
– Weetbix (up to 8 in the morning)
– anything sweet

We have tried every technique from bribing, starving (“this is what it is, take it or leave it”), childcare tried for 3 years to no avail, Grandma tried when we stayed with her, visits to an occupational therapist, nutritionist, Doctor (his son ate jam sandwiches until he was 18 and was fine)…you get the picture, his long-standing issues continued to exist, from no lack of trying.

Until recently, when I felt I had more time & energy to tackle it again. With our eminent trip to France, we painted a picture in our minds, of lunch at the french school that may only consist of coq-au-vin and potato gratin! A delicacy to some, an empty stomach for Oliver. I’m sure they have fussy kids in France, but a bit of motivation and renewed enthusiasm, and we’ve finally made some progress.

He’s always responded well to reward charts, so we recently drew up a new one (and one for Spencer that included more helping tasks & chores that we’ve been trying to improve on) and the balance of power was back in Oliver’s hands.

reward chart 2

We started small but with a firm ‘this is what there is’ approach and used some ideas from various experts who suggested offering a few things you know the child will eat on the table. So most dinners have bread, raw veggie sticks and a glass of milk so he doesn’t go completely hungry. We started with spaghetti Bolognese and offered a small bowl of plain spaghetti to Oliver, who (with a bribe and being in the right mood) ended up eating a small bowl of plain spaghetti! First time, we filmed it, he was proud, and he got a sticker and his ‘instant’ reward (which was the bribe of a fidget spinner if he ate the whole bowl).

boys eating 2

Subsequent nights consisted of Shepard’s Pie, thinking he might eat some plain mash potato but didn’t touch it. Tacos which he ate with just cheese but at least participated in the family meal and made one himself. Next came a chinese stir-fry with hokkien noodles (similar to spaghetti was my rationale), which he ate a bowl of…another bit of progress. We’ve continued to try potatoes – selling their virtues and similarities to hot chips (french fries) but no progress there. Last Saturday, feeling like his mood was right (this can make a big difference to the outcome), I made honey-soy chicken thighs in the wok and special fried rice. He was happy with 2 pieces of chicken (no skewers!) and tried plain rice…in fact, ate a bowl of it with a bit of soy sauce. More progress. More celebrating. Fist pumps for Mum.

This week Spencer was on his dinner making night, and I suggested Sushi, know it was quite interactive and each kid could make their own. We made Oliver plain ones with just rice (which is slightly sweetened anyway, perfect for him) and explained that the seaweed was like his seaweed rice crackers. He ate a few. We feel as though we’re on a roll (sorry, totally no pun intended but that’s too good to remove).

Oliver making sushi

I think the key to a lot of this now, at his age of 6 is involving him in the decisions, keeping him involved in the family meal (providing something for him too), not making it a fight (we say ‘don’t worry, if you don’t want to eat it, don’t). We praise and provide a sticker (and end of week rewards) when he tries new foods (along with other things on his reward chart) and don’t dwell when he doesn’t. He’s not penalised, other than not getting a special dessert if it’s on offer. Yogurt and fruit are always an after-dinner option and if we have something else sweet, he has to have tried his food to get this.

I know that no 2 kids are the same, but perhaps some of these tricks and techniques will help you solve the eating challenges in your home. It’s taken a lot of patience, at times we gave up entirely and for many years have cooked him a special meal, we knew he would eat. Defusing the dinner time arguments and using the ‘it’s ok, don’t eat it if you don’t want to’ technique has certainly been key to all of this and I would suggest trying that, to keep the stress down and progress high. He is in no way ‘not fussy’ anymore but I feel like we’ve turn a page and are writing the chapter of new foods for him.

Now what France has in store, how school lunches will be dealt with, meals in restaurants, foods on the go, is all still to be discovered. I’m comforted by the knowledge that French bread and croissants are a staple and can assume we’ll still be reaching for them on a regular basis to comfort empty tummies. Hopefully Olivers cute Aussie accent and ‘je ne sais quoi’ gets us through the discomfort of what might lie ahead. In the meantime, we’ll be trying to expand on the success of the honey-soy chicken meal in an attempt to inch closer to Coq-au-vin. Ha! Wish us luck.

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