Friday, 6 January 2012

How to feed a fussy eater

All kids go through fussy phases. Bobby went through a phase where she would only eat orange food- carrots, baked beans, fish fingers, marmalade (but not toast...) and of course oranges. She also went through a brief vegetarian phase on finding out that meat came from animals:

"Urgh! That's so nasty! I'm never eating meat again! I don't want to eat a cute little animal!"
"Except pigs. I don't like pigs. What can I eat if I eat pigs?"
Ah the morals of the young!

Of all my kids, however, Peter was definitely the fussiest. A fussy tot with autism is a nightmare, and there were times when I seriously doubted that Peter would reach his teens without developing rickets, scurvy or similar. Peter is now 13, and eats pretty much anything, except sprouts (and I have to agree with him there).

To get Peter from fussy to foodie, we used a combination of tactics. First, the paediatrician's suggestion:
To reduce the fear of food, we first had to get Peter to tolerate it in his 'personal space'. Right. A bit nineties therapy, but we'll give it a go.
We had to start by putting a small piece of the new food next to him on a side plate, then moving it in gradual steps onto his plate. Peter was then supposed to touch, smell and play with the new food before trying it. Good advice. Didn't work.

To slip new food past Peter, we realised we had to be wily. We became as cunning as politicians, putting a positive spin on new experiences and lying through our teeth.

When we started, Peter would only eat sandwiches (peanut butter or Marmite), crisps, chips or plain pasta. Peter would refuse all sandwiches unless the bread was perfectly square. We told him that rectangular bread was really square bread that had been squashed in the freezer, and showed him all the loaves squashed in. It worked. When the peanut butter people changed the lid of the peanut butter from blue to yellow, all hell broke loose, but we convinced Peter that peanut butter, like hamsters (see 'How to deal with the death of a pet'), shed their 'skin' in the summer months.

Peter would eat chicken, but no other meat, so we renamed all meat to be chicken. Beef became African chicken which had been out in the sun longer than UK chicken, pork was chewy chicken- chicken which was just a little bit older, fish was flaky chicken, you get the idea.

Peter's autism also meant that he got very stressed if something wasn't quite right, so to get him to eat fruit we labelled all the bananas with the days of the week. Peter was so stressed that the 'Monday' banana wouldn't be eaten until Tuesday that he ate it himself. Job done. His teachers thought we were a bit odd, but it was a small price to pay.

The real turning point came when we took Peter to an 'All you can eat' Chinese buffet. By this time, Peter was eating chips. When he saw chips at the buffet he said, "Oh, I didn't know chips were Chinese. I like Chinese food, then?" This progressed to, "Of course you like prawns/onions/cheese Peter. You eat crisps in those flavours." We've told Peter that he is amazing because he tries anything now, and Peter, ever susceptible to the power of suggestion, believes us to be telling the truth. Thus, another self fulfilling prophesy is brought to fruition.

Phyllis isn't too bad, although she prefers grazing to 'proper' meals. This is fine; she has a tiny giraffe tummy, rather than a whacking great elephant tummy like the teens who trample through my fridge most evenings. She's not the type to waste away, however, and any faddiness soon evens out in the end. We get her to try new things, or things she has already tried and dismissed, by saying, "Ah but you've grown now, so your tongue has grown too and will have more taste buds. Let's see if you've grown enough to like ***** (insert your own food) yet. Wow you have!"

Getting kids to eat is part psychological mind games in which you, as the adult, hold the upper hand, and part relaxing and admitting that it is very rare for a child who is offered food to starve. If they won't eat what you want them to eat, but are growing and healthy, the problem is yours as you have to prepare more food. This is a nuisance, but not life threatening.

Today: A step too far
Trying to persuade Phyllis to eat sprouts (she happily eats cabbage) I told her that sprouts were 'fairy cabbages', small and dainty fairy food.
Phyllis gave me a whithering look. "Mummy I'm 6. Don't be silly."
Ah well, none of us like sprouts anyway. Saves me the cooking.

Mama Jax

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