Do you have a Fussy eater or a Problem eater?
Hey mumma over there, watching me try to get my son to eat.
All smug. I know what you’re thinking; if that was my child I’d know what to do. I’d send him to bed hungry! He’ll eat when he’s hungry! Feed it to him for breakfast in the morning and he’ll soon learn to eat his dinner! Sneak veggies into his meals!!! If that was my kid I'd be able to get him to eat.
Ohhhh, you have a fussy eater and want to hand on some pearls of wisdom?
Sorry, that was a bit harsh, I know you mean well. Let me explain.
There are fussy eaters and there are problem eaters, and until you have a problem eater then you haven't experienced the exhausting, gut wrenching, stress that is a child who has problems eating.
Let me take you back to the start.
Our son was born at a healthy 3.4kg and breastfed perfectly as a newborn. Life was grand!
At twelve weeks it all stopped. Sleeping stopped, feeding stopped, and crying started. Every time I tried to breastfeed him he would throw his head back and scream bloody murder. There were days when he wouldn't feed for 24 hours. Sometimes I would rock him to sleep then feed him while he was asleep just to get calories in him.
We spent a week at a mother baby unit and three nights at the Royal Children’s, figuring out that he had a range of allergies and had developed an oral aversion, which meant he didn’t want anything near his mouth for fear of pain. My boobs had literally traumatized my baby!
There began three years of trying to get my little boy to eat. Anything. And at three and a half years old, he finds no joy in food.
I’m a personal trainer, so I hope that gives me some credibility when I say I have a passion for health and wellbeing. Good foods are staples in my household and I make most of our food from scratch.
So I persisted, thinking that surely if I could cook anything in the world, then I could find something he would eat.
But as the months wore on and some nights he was still going to bed having eaten a handful of frozen corn (still frozen…) or a couple of chips. Our pediatric dietician referred us to a speech therapist and encouraged me to look into the SOS approach to feeding.
When we walked into the speech therapist’s office she said she already knew what was wrong. Max has chubby cheeks, like that of a baby. When babies learn to chew, their cheeks become more defined as their muscles tone from chewing. She knew just by looking at him that Max had difficulties chewing. As it turns out, Max never learned to chew “hard mechanicals”, these are foods such as carrots and nuts, which never break down or dissolve in the mouth like biscuits or bread.
So I am literally teaching my son how to chew. I am literally teaching him how to move food from one side of his mouth to the other.
What. The. Hell.
At just on 11kg at three and a half, I’m pretty desperate to get calories into my son. My eight month old is rapidly approaching the same weight! So during that initial session, the speech therapist sat me down and said “Libby, right now you need to worry less about what Max eats, but that he eats anything at all.” And with that, all my obsessions with making everything he eats from scratch and focusing on all natural products went out the window (for now…). I drove to the supermarket, bought a box of dinosaur chicken nuggets and watched my son devour twelve of them. TWELVE OF THEM!
I cried that night. I cried because instead of responding to a situation, I had let my own preconceived notions of health and parenting get in the way.
So here we are working with new strategies and taking all the pressure off food.
So what sets a fussy eater and a problem eater apart? Think about your child’s diet for a minute. Fussy eaters will generally have a range of foods they will actually eat, with a range of flavours, textures and colors. Fussy eaters have a decreased range of foods they will eat, but can usually taste or touch new foods or have them on their plate, even if it takes a few attempts.
Problem feeders have a restricted range of foods and may be stressed or have a meltdown if a new food is on their plate. They often refuse entire food groups, colours, temperatures or textures. Max likes cold food, beige in colour. They often have food “jags”, where they will demand a certain brand or food consistently for several weeks, but when they get sick of that food that food is then lost from their repertoire. Max loved Organic 5am Cocao yogurt. I was thrilled by this because dairy = calories. But then one day Coles online delivered Caramel flavour instead of Cocao. Do you think he’ll touch yogurt now? Thanks a lot, Coles.
Problem eaters often have difficulties swallowing or chewing, and may gag while eating.
My friend’s son is quite similar to Max. He gags on foods he eats. We often find ourselves lamenting over the advice friends try to give us, or that no one believes us in the first place. “When I say to people ‘no he is not just fussy, he won't even try a lollie, he has never ever had a sweet biscuit or even chocolate. He will only eat cake that I have made and only if Happy Birthday has been sung and never the icing... Wow how lucky are you, they say! That is so great... Yes but it means he hardly eats anything…” She says.
We have quite a journey ahead of us as we follow the strategies of our speech therapist and work with our cheeky spunk of a son. But for now, we’re doing our best. And I’m pretty good for ideas on eating, thank you very much.
Side note: I am not a dietician or a speech therapist, or funnily enough, a pediatrician. This is just information i have learned along my travels, so if you have any concerns about your child please seek medical assistance.
Libby – Miracle Months http://www.miraclemonths.com/