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Really Need Help With DD's Eating (or Non-Eating)

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

So DD is 4 and we have struggled with her eating since she started on table food. We are exasperated and need help!! Our pedi suggested seeing an OT for eating therapy when she was about 18 months, but insurance didn't cover it and we couldn't afford to go that route. We thought she'd gradually become a less selective eater, but that's not happening and in fact it's gotten worse!


She is growing "fine", so that's not an issue, but I certainly worry about her overall health and complete nutrition and all other aspects that come along with super picky eating (parental frustration, her frustration, social aspects, etc)..


We've tried many different tactics, philosophies, etc. and none seem to work because 1) it's a control thing for her and she is willfull, willfull, willfull.

2) She truly seems to have aversions, anxiety and weirdness about foods.  She'll say things like "that soup is white...I don't want to eat white soup!" or "the oranges smell HOOORIBLE..get them away from me!" (she seriously freaks if her brother is eating an orange or smells like orange) or "NOPE...not trying quiche. It has green stuff and it looks weird and grey."  Those are just comments I can recall from the past few days.



Tonight when attempting to do her "one bite taste test" with the quiche, her body was literally tensed up, she looked scared and repulsed. Ultimately she did not try the bite, therefore we chose to deny her request for something else to eat (oatmeal, toast, yogurt) and she went to bed hungry which only sucks for HER and for US when she wakes frequently asking for something to eat. I feel terrible about it but this is probably the 2nd time that we've gone that route because we're just so tired of catering to her refusals to eat dinner, but then want a bedtime snack of her choosing later.


After far too many dinners that go horribly, end with major struggles and both of us nearly in tears, I realize that we need outside help help. The girl eats very few things and I worry that perhaps it's more than just being picky and that we missed-the-boat by not getting an OT's help when she was much  younger. 


So does she sound like "just a picky/selective eater"? Any thoughts, suggestions, advice? I would certainly appreciate it!



post #2 of 19
Thread Starter 

I should add that she is always up for carbs and dairy but eats little fruits and nearly no veggies (except for the occasional green beans).

post #3 of 19

My husband has very very strong sensory reactions to food. Our son has this to a lesser extent. Our son literally gagged the last time I asked him to try lasagna. I won't ask him again.


So, based on what I know from my husband: Please, please, please do not refuse her any food if she refuses to try something. Kids who are like this will not eat if they're hungry. Their reactions are so strong, they will go hungry. It's not good for her physical or mental health. You may not understand it, but it may make her literally sick. Given your description, it's probably not just one thing that sets her off, but several: texture (huge for my dh), taste/smell, and color.


Because of mistakes his parents made while raising him (forcing him to stay at the table until he ate all his peas; refusing him other foods until he ate the 'healthy' ones; trying to 'sneak' more nutritious food into other foods), dh has an extremely limited diet. He eats: meats, cheese and carbs. No fruit. No veggies. He's working hard on adding more healthy options, but has to start with supplements because the texture issues are so huge for him.


I think it might help you to understand that children with these kinds of sensory issues aren't "willful". They literally cannot do what you ask, and they don't have the skills or insights to explain to you what's going on. Assume that she's doing the best she can and go from there. Your description of your daughter looking "scared and repulsed" is not the description of a willful child. It's the description of a terrified child who's controlling her environment to feel safe.


What I would do instead is:

Offer one thing every meal that you know she will eat. Serve her a small portion of all foods, if you like, but don't make her eat them.

Serve sauces on the side.

If there's nothing at the table she will eat, allow her to fix herself something else.

Back way way off of food issues until you know what's going on.


A good book to start with is: Just Take a Bite: Easy Effective Solutions to Food Aversions and Feeding Challenges

Good books for general sensory stuff is: The Out of Sync Child and Sensational Kids.


It's not too late to get occupational therapy if you can afford it. She's only 4. If you can't, read the Just Take a Bite book and see if you can implement some of the strategies at home.



post #4 of 19

I can relate.  My 6yo DS also has sensory integration issues, and getting him to eat fruits and vegetables or any kind of sauce, or ... hasn't gone as expected yet.  I agree with PP that it doesn't sound like your child is trying to make your lives miserable, but is truly incapable of eating/tolerating the same foods as the rest of your family. (BTW, my son also strongly dislikes the smell of fresh oranges, but he loves to drink orange juice w/o pulp.)


I'm in the middle of reading My Kid Eats Everything!  A Journey from Picky to Adventurous Eating by Susan L. Roberts that my pediatric OT mother gave me.  Some great information and perspectives so far, as well as useful strategies for taking the emotion out of the equation, creating trust between parents and child about trying new foods, and how to build up from getting a child to tolerate the smell of a food (all the way down the hall) to being able to tolerate the sight/smell of it at the table.  There's also some info on food chaining (starting with what your child already eats, expanding to different brands/forms of the same food).  I can't wait for my DH to read this book--he takes DS's eating habits/hangups so personally, just b/c there's no logic involved, and DH is focusing so hard on the nutritional content of what DS does/doesn't eat.  Mealtimes are actually more enjoyable when DH is at work and it's just me and DS--way more of a positive, less judgemental vibe.

post #5 of 19

We took our oldest dd (then 2.5) to an OT.  This would be her advice in this situation:


Let her eat what she wants.  She needs to develop the idea that eating is pleasurable, because for some kids it isn't.  It sounds like she has sensory issues, and we have a little bit of that here with my younger dd, 5yo.  So, always keep food on the table that she will eat and don't make dinner time such a battlefield.  I know it seems reasonable for a kid to take one tiny bite, but that is adult logic that does not apply to kids.  Let that one go, but praise her when she is adventurous and tries something even if she hates it and spits it out.


So, go out of your way to make mealtimes pleasant.


I will tell you right now that all this has never eliminated the struggles 100%, mainly because I could never manage to drop it 100% of the time, but has helped immensely.   My struggling eater is doing very well, and my younger daughter still survives on cinnamon toast and apple juice, with an occasional broccoli floret for dinner.  She is lanky but tall and she still manages to survive.



post #6 of 19



I have an 8 yo son who is a very light eater and has always been very thin (I think he weighs 50 lbs and he will be nine in April).  I also have an 11 yo son who is on the chubby side.  I have always been more concerned with my chubbier child because when he was younger it seemed all he ever wanted to eat was white-flour carbs.  My younger one would eat more variety, but only eat one little bite (really!).  He spent maybe five years eating nothing at all for dinner (well maybe one or two bites one or two nights per week).  I always say he spent his entire second and third year living on nothing but bananas and mama's milk!  He grows at the minimum expectation per year and I find this comforting.  His ped is fine with it, his energy and health are great, so I don't worry.  He has lately gone through times where he eats like I would expect a normal 8 yo to eat and at those times I assume he is growing.  I do insist that my boys eat two bites of a vegetable at dinner.  We worked up to this and they can definitely handle it now, don't think it should be forced on someone already struggling.  My big boy will gag on occasion, but I don't worry about it (because eating is - in general - a non-issue).


Not sure what my point is, but we haven't made an issue out of food (by choice, because I could definitely go there) and our mealtimes are pleasant even though we have kids that are on both sides of the eating issue.  My kids have really started to eat more things in the last year or so, so it may take years for your child to like more variety.


At one point I read a great book by Ellen Sattyr or Satter or something like that.  She has a book called How to Get your Child to Eat, But Not Too Much (this isn't the one I read, but I heard this is great too).  I really read it because I was worried about my big boy's bigness, but it helped me to be calm about food issues and do what I could do, instead of trying to control my kids' behavior.


Just thought you might like to know you are not alone!


Good Luck!



post #7 of 19

One more thing....


Since she is 4, she will appreciate stories like "Bread and Jam for Francis".  Another story, I can't quite remember the title but I'll work on it, is a picture book about eating a forest that turns out to be broccoli.  Fun books that are not overtly preachy.   I would not read them with any agenda in mind except to show her (simply via the storyline) that she is not the first kid who is picky.  And these are wonderful stories on their own, that's the main thing.

post #8 of 19

I agree with what I skimmed from the pps. This is a real problem, a sensory issue, not a willful issue or anything like that. If the only green she eats is green beans then serve it on up!

My observation is that children who have sensory issues usually have more than one. I would suggest a early intervention/school district evaluation to see if your child can receive therapy that way. Out of Sync child was one of the first books I read about sensory stuff and it is easy for parents to understand.

post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 

WOW. Thanks for the responses, everyone. It must not be a coincidence that several of you suggested I read The Out of Sync Child, and I JUST did last week, because I have long suspected that she has some (mild?) sensory issues. Mostly seems to be food issues (color, texture, smell) but also spills into other aspects of her days, although really the "other" issues come out mainly when she's really tired and behind on sleep. But the food issues...always present.  I have wondered is it truly a sensory thing or is she JUST picky but your responses all indicate that it is a sensory thing. 


I know, I know...not giving her something else to eat when she couldn't try her quiche last night felt so wrong and horrible, but we just reached a boiling point. And like I said, it was only like the second time we've gone that route but we won't again. Neither DH nor I felt it was right to do.


So...evaluation through the school district? Do you know if they generally do food therapy? 


Also, I will ck out the children's books suggested. 

post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 

Okay, so more questions!  


We really do try to avoid getting into a battle at dinner (or lunch, breakfast for that matter), and if I set aside the idea of a sensory issue, I still struggle with this:


I always serve something with her meal that I know she'll eat (yogurt, toast with pb, dinner bread EVERY night) and usually a very small portion of the main dish and some veggie or fruit.

If I never put it on her plate, she'll never, ever try it, right? BUT instead of just ignoring it or simply choosing not to try the food, she will start yelling as she approaches the table. "NOPE...I didn't ask for carrots. I hate carrots! I'm not eating those." And she'll remove them forcefully from her plate. It really gets DH boiled up because he feels she is so disrespectful. We've told her that she doesn't have to eat everything but that we at least offer it, but we won't tolerate her screaming about it or throwing the food off her plate. But..what's an appropriate consequence?


 What would you do? continue to place the items on her plate and just ignore the eruptive behavior? Return the food to her plate after she's tossed it off in protest or just let it sit in the middle of the table? Usually after she's removed the offensive foods, she'll move on and eat her boring, repetitive yogurt/toast/cheese. Ugh.


This gets especially difficult (and nerve-wracking) when we're dining with others...especially those of our friends who have the "most amazing eaters" and they feel so proud of their "parenting" to have raised such exceptional eaters (whatever...). I honestly try to avoid dining with these sorts of people, but sometimes it can't be avoided (at family gatherings for example). 





post #11 of 19

You could just not put the offending food on her plate until she forgets about the pressure she's been feeling and then reintroduce. You could put the offending food on a small separate plate so there is no chance of it touching the food she intends to eat. We have taught our boys to say "no thank you" when they don't want a particular food (and then we must respect that choice). We still get an occasional "ewww" or "gross" but usually they will just say "no thank you." My kids are 8 and 11, so much older than your gal, just keep in mind these things take time.


When my kids were little and I would read that if you keep serving a variety of healthy foods, your kids will eventually eat them, I thought "eventually" meant six months or a year. Now I know it can mean more like seven or eight years!



post #12 of 19
I know it means some more dishes, but can you eat family style at home, with each dish on its own plate, and then each person serves themselves? You'll probably have to help her, but this would give her the control she wants/needs over what goes on her plate, while still making sure its available.

When she starts yelling about food she doesn't like, wait until she stops (without getting angry - its pretty age appropriate), and then say, "it's ok if you don't want your carrots, next time say no thank you mommy. Can you practice saying that with me?"
post #13 of 19

I wouldn't force it on her plate.  That should be a step you work towards over time.

post #14 of 19

They do not generally do food therapy but if she has other issues - which it sounds like she may - I think it is a good place to start. If she can get help in other areas it could help with her feeding. I'm encouraging you to get your foot in the door, this will also put you in personal contact with an OT who can give you feedback and skills for areas that you can work at on your own. Is it possible to appeal to your insurance on this issue? Sounds like your doctor would write something up for you along the lines of this could lead to major health issues?

post #15 of 19

I agree with everyone else who advises to stop putting the offending foods on her plate.  It's enough that she's exposed to the sight/smell of them at the table.  She sees the rest of the family eating them.  She's clearly not yet able to tolerate them on the same plate as her other foods--so from her perspective it's rather disrespectful of you to put such yucky stuff on her plate; she's just responding in kind.  


When dining with others, is it possible to ask your DD what she'd like to eat before you fix her plate?  Would she be able to choose some things from what's available?  Or would she only ask for items that aren't there?  B/c if she's capable of choosing from what's spread out, then definitely just ask her to pick a few items, then put very small servings on her plate.  If she picked it all, she's less likely to try to throw it off her plate, so no drama from her, which would mean a lot less embarrassment for you.  I know how hard it is to not feel judged (whether other people actually are judging me or not), but the more confident you can feel in your approach to your DD's health (nutrition/food intake), the easier you'll find it to dine with others.  If your extended family says anything, smile, say you're aware of DD's eating habits, and that it's a work in progress.  Don't elaborate, don't give it lots of attention/energy.

post #16 of 19
Originally Posted by luckymamaoftwo View Post

This gets especially difficult (and nerve-wracking) when we're dining with others...especially those of our friends who have the "most amazing eaters" and they feel so proud of their "parenting" to have raised such exceptional eaters (whatever...). I honestly try to avoid dining with these sorts of people, but sometimes it can't be avoided (at family gatherings for example). 

hug.gif Oh man, that was me. My first is an awesome eater, and I do think it's in part because we introduced a lot of different flavors and textures early. That's right, I'm awesome! joy.gif

My second? Has been in feeding therapy SINCE BIRTH. I've spent literally thousands of hours and dollars getting this child to eat and drink. DD is almost 2 and we've made awesome progress, "awesome progress" being defined as having some days where she doesn't refuse everything.

Honestly, I think everyone's advice could be helpful and well-meaning, but it could also be inappropriate for your daughter's particular needs and issues. I've had a TEAM of specialists working on this for 2 years, and progress is agonizingly slow. I would highly, highly recommend getting at least an evaluation done by a speech language pathologist that specializes in feeding therapy so that you know what you're up against.
post #17 of 19
My ds sounds like your dd. You have gotten great advice from pps. I look at my son's diet over a few days, or, a week, instead of individually evaluating each meal. As in, he may have had plain pasta for dinner, but, over the last 3 days he's had fruit, veggies, protein, etc. This helps me deal with it.
The main thing I want to add, though, is that our insurance didn't cover therapy, either, but, our state has an early intervention program & programs offered through the schools for kids over 3. They're free of charge. Depending upon where you are, there may be other options available.
post #18 of 19

Are you in a place where you can grow some veggies?


While we haven't had a real garden since DS#2 was tiny, we had great success in the "eat your veggies" department with home grown green peppers and cherry tomatoes. These were "rescued" plants from the farmers' market and grew quite well in a little side plot. We plan to branch out this year to snow peas, beans and more peppers as the kids eagerly ate what they harvested. Eventually, I'll have a vegetable garden again!


Even if your DD doesn't want to eat what she grows, she may be more tempted to try.

post #19 of 19
Originally Posted by Elcie View Post

Are you in a place where you can grow some veggies?


Even if your DD doesn't want to eat what she grows, she may be more tempted to try.

Oh, boy, is this ever true!  My veg-phobic girls will eat kale leaves, peas by the bushel and carrots and all kinds of things as long as they harvest it themselves and eat it raw and preferably right in the garden.  My youngest learned to use the faucet to wash off the carrots.  


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