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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A plan of attack for my picky eaters

This one's for Adrienne.

Okay, I can't lie.  It's actually more for me.  
The pics in this post are from a regular ol' after-school snack time.  The girls are munching on cheese and apple slices.  The cheese went down fast.  The apple slices needed more "encouragement" to be eaten.  
When push comes to shove, (and by push and shove I mean my littles are yelling at me, and perhaps throwing a plate full of food at me for making the "wrong" food choices.) I have trouble finding the fine line between offering healthy foods, expanding a child's pallet, and reinforcing secure attachment.  Something about apple slices whizzing past my head that makes it hard for me to think straight.  Go figure. 

So Adrienne, this one is for me too!  
I need this all written down for my picky eating girls and their overly sensitive mama.  

I cook one meal for dinner.  
One meal only. 
Like seriously, who has time to cook another meal?!  (I know there are many of you that do, but I still haven't developed that skill.)  I have 7 kids and do not have the time to make more than 3 meals a day.  So if one of my children doesn't like what I serve, that's totally a-okay with me.  Yep, we encourage them to at least take a "thank you bite."  Sometimes we even resort to bribery.  But there's always a supply of fresh fruits, raw vegetables, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, or pb&js to eat instead, but those are pretty much the only alternatives you have if you don't like what's served.  I try to make their favorite meals regularly, and I do take requests and incorporate them into my meal plans.  And I do try to keep my meals pretty varied with a variety of ethnic foods, hot and cold entrees, seasonal foods, favorites, and things that are new and different...  As a result, (or maybe it has been dumb luck?) my kiddos eat a huge variety of food and usually don't shy away from trying new things.
Then along came Tess and blew my you'll-eat-whatever-mom-is-serving-tonight-if-you're-hungry-enough routine out of the water.  She was likely malnourished, (along with some other suspected food issues that I won't go into for her privacy) needed to get some meat on her bones, and was the pickiest eater I had ever come across.  She would and did loose weight before eating foods she didn't prefer.  And let me tell you, in the beginning that list of foods she would eat was small.  Like really small!  When she came home the only foods she would eat were Gerber puffs, formula, Ritz crackers, and That. Was. It.  5 years later, the process of introducing Tess to new foods and just having a meal, often triggers much deeper issues.  Food and meal time are still a trigger for her outbursts and closely links to her feeling securely attached in her world.  Now 5 years have gone by, and her picky eating is still something we have to deal with but the variety of foods she will eat has greatly increased and her picky eating is now manageable.  With cajoling and a mommy game we often play, she will at least try new foods.  She eats a healthy diet.  She eats enough food.  She will sit at the table during family dinner (Okay not all the time, but we're still working on it.  If we're not watching carefully, she often sneaks away from the dinner table, and when she doesn't she often asks to be excused just a few minutes into the meal.  So it's definitely still a work in progress.)  She's very petite, skinny as a rail, but not malnourished, has a healthy BMI, and growing on her own growth curve, although it has never even come close to being on the American or Asian growth charts.  

Now Mimi is home and low and behold, the Lord has blessed us with another picky eater!  I don't think we're dealing with any deeper issues or past food trauma other than being picky and radically changing her Chinese diet.  We had food/eating therapy for 2+ full years with Tess, so my feeding-picky-eaters-bag-o'-tricks has been helpful once again!
And this is what I do to keep my wits about me.

Mentally... I think that food and eating are so tied with our maternal instincts.  As a mama, I came to the deep guttural realization that 
1) my child's food issues affect me at my core--- of who I am as a mother and how I feel about how successful (or not) I am at my job as their mama.  Feeding our young is instinctual and animalistic.  We think it's suppose to come naturally and easily.  And when it doesn't, it hurts leaving us mamas often feeling like a failure at the most basic of tasks... feeding our child.  
2) no matter how my core mama is hurting when there are food and eating issues, it really isn't my fault, and I shouldn't take it personally.  Really.  It's not your fault.  Some kiddos come with baggage.  And just like a diabetic gets insulin, we treat the problem.  Yeah, if you're in the middle of food and eating issues you know this "not taking it personally" is easier said than done.  

So I rely on some guidelines so I don't get emotionally  "caught up" in the food issues that arise.  With my therapists, we devised this plan .  Our overall goal is to increase food variety and nutrition would naturally follow if I can achieve this goal.  So it may seem bass ackwards not to have eat a nutritious meal as one of our primary objectives for my picky eaters, but indeed this will and has come as a result of eating a varied diet.  

1)  When Mimi came home, being the anal retentive person I am, I made two lists of possible food choices for her
      List 1 included all the foods that Mimi would eat, her favorites.  This included
 yogurt, water, hard boiled eggs, congee, rice, cheese, Captain Crunch Berries,  Ritz crackers, deli meats, hot dogs and peanut butter.  That was it in the beginning.
      List 2 included all the foods that Mimi would sometimes eats and sometimes wouldn't.  For her this included
 ham, bologna, pasta, juice, ice cream, rice noodles, pickles, oranges/tangerines and bananas.

Honestly, just writing the lists down really helped me see that there were options and things she would eat.  It was a start at least.  

2)  I try to keep the foods on both the A and B list on hand and stocked up... even if they are crap or weird.  (Keep in mind that I'm trying to build her variety of food and pallet.  Nutrition is not my goal... yet.)

3)  At every meal, I offer 3-5 different foods, serving things from "A" and "B" lists and a new food.  But I keep a variety in the 3-5 things I serve on her tray.  A variety in textures (crunchy, melt-able, mushy, yogurt-y, leathery/dried fruits...) and taste (sweet, salty, sour, savory...) and food groups (dairy, protein, vegetable, fruit...) and temps (hot vs cold) and so on...  Even if she won't eat or even try or even look at the new food, I keep offering every single meal.  Mamas, this is a marathon not a sprint.  It takes time (years maybe) and the deeper the issues the more time it takes.  I'm desperately introducing beans, vegetables, and fruits for our girly at this time.  PS-I said offer her 3-5 foods per meal.  She will likely only eat 1-2 items, MAYBE try 1 other, and toss the others on the floor or at me in disgust or ignore them.  Sometimes it's a victory if she will even allow the food to remain on her tray.  

Eventually... eventually, she will get to the point that she will allow the non-preferred food to stay on her tray... then maybe eventually she'll touch it... then someday she'll bring it to her lips... and eventually it will make contact with her tongue... then a bite...  I've done this with 2 girlies now, and it takes months, years and hundreds of exposures to the new foods.  

4)  Throw in snack times between meals of 1-2 food items.  Start with a new food and then add something from the A list a few minutes later. 

Other tips and tricks
---I have regularly added to and changed both lists as time passes. 
---I try to serve things different ways.  Currently we're trying to get Mimi to drink milk.  We've tried with a straw, sippy cup, in a regular cup, in a water bottle, served warm, cold, with choc syrup, with a teaspoon of sugar mixed in... A year later, so far no success, but we're still working on it.
---I try different times of day too, not just at meal time and/or at the table.  We offer snacks during playtime, while on the swing set, or while reading a book in her room, or at the doctor's office waiting room.  This works very well for Tess.  It's amazing what kids will eat when out and about!
---I offer new foods or foods from "B" list first, then move on to her favorites.
---I don't shy away from non-toddler foods either.  Because in the end the goal is to build up her food variety.  So I also introduce things like mustard, dill pickles or even just the dill pickle juice, bell peppers, vinegar potato chips, ice cubes, beets, dried/uncooked Top Ramen noodles, frozen peas (still frozen)...
----With variety in tastes and textures in mind, I also include crap foods too at meal times like Cheetos, pop-cycles, Cocopuffs...  This totally goes against my maternal instincts.  But we've found given time, it really works in increasing her diet and willingness to try new things.
----With our Asian girls, I think offering "different" meats is a great possibility too.  I need to get down to the Asian market and get some meats and fishes to introduce.  

---I really don't push the new foods too much, or any foods for that matter.  Food and eating can often trigger bigger issues for our kiddos with tough pasts.  Pushing it often just makes it worse.  
I'm putting this all down for myself as much as anything.  I'm a linear girl and having it all written down gives me a plan to follow.  

Eventually, the variety of foods has grown as has their pallets and willingness to try new foods. 

Thanks for humoring me, Adrienne!


  1. Nancy - You did a great job sharing about foods!! Having worked with kiddos who are severe picky eaters for a variety of reasons, I really like, agree with, and use MANY of the techniques you have mentioned with some of my picky eater students.

    Variety, even in how things are presented, shapes, temperatures, cups, etc... it all boils down to variety, and helping them to expand their repertoire one tiny step at a time. Even if that means forgetting all we hold dear about nutrition for the time being.

    I really can't agree with you more! In fact I agree so much I am going to suggest that a particular child's mama read this entry.

    1. Please share with her. This stuff came really hurt mama hearts. Just knowing we're not alone can help.

  2. Wow, you really know your stuff! This post is not only useful for mamas; I'm an elementary school teacher and we deal with picky eaters a lot. There are children who, like Tess, have deeper issues with food that come from a whole range of sources, and there are other little ones like Mimi who are simply picky or not used to the lunches that the school gives them. (many of these children have to have school lunches out of necessity since their families' financial position means they get the food free from the government)

    As a new teacher, I sometimes struggled to know how to handle these children. They have meetings with all kinds of therapists through the school (again free from the government as many of their parents can't afford it). But on a day-to-day basis when a child is in full-on melt-down in the cafeteria, their teacher gets called to help calm them. This really, really helped me so much, cannot thank you enough!

    1. As I'm sure you know, kiddos from hard places have control over so very little. So sometimes the food battle is all the power they have. They try to hard to be self reliant when it comes to their own security and those food choices, or lack of choices is really just their way of feeling safe in a world that may be very mixed up for them. THANK YOU for being a teacher that will listen to them and just be there on those mixed up days. My heart is better knowing your'e there.

  3. Oh Nancy, I FEEL YOUR PAIN! two of my kids have Celiac disase (so sometimes I am stuck doing separate dinners (gluten and gluten-free) and it STINKS!!. My oldest was not diagnosed until he was in 2nd grade. Lots of years of eating food that makes you feel bad = not a good relationship with food. I have had to listen to SO MUCH "if he's hungry, he'll eat" advice over the years. NOT TRUE for him. If it's not a food he's comfortable with = he'll go hungry. I remember once talking to my pediatrician and asking what else would help us and he said simply "it's going to take A LOT of time and A LOT of patience". And it has. And a year and a half of Occupational therapy and we can now at least TRY some new foods. It is so hard to not be able to feed your kids all the nutritional food you want. So hard. I feel like I live in the kitchen and yet my two Celiac kids still have such a limited diet. I always pay attention to your posts about your kids eating issues and appreciate the sharing. We do so many of the things you mention in the post, but I have picked up a few new ideas from this which are always appreciated. Thanks. Sorry for the long comment. Imagine my joy when Vivian came home and EATS EVERYTHING IN SIGHT!

    1. I can't imagine throwing Celiacs into the mix, Maureen! And he's TRYING new foods???!!! Oh that's the battle that ultimately wins the war! Keep up the hard work. The hardest work has the grandest payoff. (Says the mama who cried when her daughter first asked for an apple.)

  4. The "not taking it personally" is SO hard. My daughter has been home two years. And while she is not overly picky, she is still a toddler so all her foods are on List 2, you never know what she will eat from day to day. So ours are just control issues. And that is SO exhausting. And not taking it personally is a battle for me daily. But I know that is part of God refining me in this process :) Thanks for sharing this, I needed this today.

  5. We recently started feeding therapy for our youngest, who came home not knowing how to chew. After tonight's meal, I was feeling resentful and discouraged. Thank you for reminding me that it's a long walk, and I need to save my energy.

  6. Morning Nancy - yeah I've been awol!

    You post from Monday cracked me up - ah the joys of the 'net...

    As for today - well done - brilliant even! Thanks for mentioning the "overall food issues" that a lot of our adopted kids have - and don't forget to add the "swiping food" or "hiding food" issue that sometimes demonstrates with our kids too. It's all OK - and making a "discipline issue" out of it (which is probably how 99% of us were raised btw) will only make it worse.

    Interestingly - one of our adopteds has a "mixed food on a plate" thing too - we went back to the plates with the little "separator thingmes" to keep the foods from mixing for him - easy fix there...and one of our other adopteds has a "need" for extremely spicy - whatever - you can keep a couple spice grinders on the table and she can grind to her hearts content!

    At the end of the day I'm thinking you are "spot on" - very well done - it's just not something that needs to be an issue!

    hugs - aus and co.

  7. Thank you for this! I have run across very few who understand how hard this is. Our daughter had her cleft lip and palate repaired in China. There was some major trauma that happened...not enough pain meds is the therapists guess along with force feeding. She has been home one year and is still only on pediasure. We see a feeding therapist and we have just now worked up to using a spoon with our pediasure...still no food. It is such a LONG and hard struggle. At times I wish I could go back in time and BEG them to let us do her surgeries here, but I can't. It is such an emotional journey for a mom! At least it is for me:) Thank you for the ideas and letting me know I'm not alone!

  8. Your photos are lovely, and looks like you are doing a wonderful job in getting this sorted out! So lucky these precious children are in having you for their mommy!

  9. Nancy, I love how your post are so informative and helpful. Even though it "food issues" is not something we struggle with, this post informed and enlightened me to the fact that "food struggles" may be attributed to other issues other than being a "stubborn toddler/preschooler". Your approach and technique with the girls is spot on. Great post and even GREATER MOM!

  10. Thank you for this post. As a Mama to a little boy who only eats TWO things, I need all the help I can get. We adopted him from China January 2012 and he was malnourished, underweight, etc. Our feeding therapy wasn't helpful - he was much too stressed out about it. So we stopped that after a few torturous months. The fact that he will lick (not even chew) crackers and pretzels now is HUGE. I know what you're saying about throwing food and not tolerating things even touching the tray. We're moving in the right direction but sometimes it feels like it's taking so long. I'll be printing out this post to refer to often!!

    1. Not that I know up from down or anything but have some experience... if it were me your A list would only have 2 things and I would feed them to him every single meal so he doesn't feel stresses and feels secure. Then I'd offer him the B list which could be anything he will lick or even allow on his plate/tray. The the new foods. Start with B though especially when your doing snacks and out and about. It CAN'T be stressful! The security has to come first for these kiddos. Please let me know how the marathon goes. Would love to hear!

  11. Just one thought - I´m sorry to bother if you have probably considered this already- is Mimi maybe lactose intolerant? I´ve read that kids sometimes instinctivly avoid food that doesn´t become them.

    1. You're not bothering in the least! No, we don't think so. She always did lots of formula in the beginning and now she drinks milk, it just has to have chocolate syrup in it! She will not touch a drop of plain milk. Not strawberry. Not caramel. Only chocolate and for the life of me I can't seem to wean her off the chocolate syrup. She's also pretty fond of ice cream, cheese... Good thought though! Thx for the idea!

  12. Thank you for sharing. I foun your blog searching for adoptive families. Your blog is among a few that have been more real in solutions than the books on parenting adopted/international children. When you write about the challenges and possible solutions, I take notice and put it down as a possibe solution to potential situations to our pending adoptive experience (LID9/12/13). I particularly like your idea of a night time snack basket for Tess. Your sharig is not a bother. It is an education. 💜 Cynthia in Denver.

    1. I'm glad it could help, Cynthia. And congrats on being LID! It's a HUGE step!

  13. So maybe this one will sound like a silly suggestion given everything that you've tried, but have you tried those bowls with the straw built into the bowl? We bought it for my little miss since she can't tip the bowl up herself, but both kids fight over it.

    They sell it on Amazon but I recently found it at the grocery store on clearance. I'll snag you one if you'd like.

    1. Jessica---Now that you mention it, we did try those silly things with one of the other kiddos (maybe Tess) but for the life of my absent brain I can't remember who! And Mimi does have milk with her cereal sometimes although she often asks to have it without. I think I'll get one! That's a great idea!
      Thank yoU!!!


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