Picky eaters who are also allergic

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 17, 2009 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

I read your answer to Rachel's question in Jamaica Plain ("Her 4 year old won't eat") and I am going through something similar though a bit more complicated. My son is 8 years old and he does not eat the regular food we eat at home, not only that but he is also allergic to wheat, soy, eggs, nuts, tree nuts, coconut, and sesame. I am at my wits end because not only can he not eat the regular foods but the gluten free foods that I do buy him he will eat for a few days and then he will tell me he no longer likes them. His reply to me is... Mom it's my taste buds. I have no idea where he heard that expression from. He does not eat lunch at school and whatever I pack for him he brings right back. Your help is really appreciated.

From: Luz, Randolph


Hi Luz,

(For readers who don't remember the topic Luz is referring to, click here.)

Facts of life for a mother of a picky, allergic child:

1. You cannot make your child eat something he doesn't want to, even if he might like it. The more you make an issue over his trying new foods, the more he will want to assume control which translates to digging himself deeper into his position. That process, over time, tends to create distance between the two of you.

2. You can't make him no longer allergic. If his options are limited, it's too bad but it is what it is. Letting him have control over what he likes and dislikes, even if it sometimes feels manipulative and, indeed, sometimes might be manipulative, can also be a good thing. Jo Arpee, a registered dietician, wrote in a 2005 FAAN article: "Allow your child the freedom of not eating certain foods. This freedom is consistent with empowering your son to refuse foods that may not be safe when (they are) served away from home."

3. Be patient and persistent. He will not always be 8. His likes and dislikes will change, plus, as I've written in this space many times, it takes a long time of seeing the same "new" food -- up to 70 times -- before it is no longer new in a child's eyes. Put it on the table or on his plate in a matter-of-fact way. Tell him, "It's my job to offer you food I know is healthy and safe for you. But it's your choice to eat it or not." The less emotional and more matter of fact you are about this, the more likely he is to try it, someday. Tip: one way to get a child to try something new is to present it in a "fun" way, like a tiny portion on a toothpick (do that for everyone in the family, not just for him) or using cookie cutters to cut the food into fun shapes.

4. As some readers pointed out in the post a few weeks ago, involving a picky eater in food prep can get them to buy into eating it, whether you involve them in the purchasing, preparing, or in the presentation.

Meanwhile, bookmark the on-line newsletter of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. Spokesperson Jennifer Love tells me that the January issue, which will be posted Jan. 4, will address problems of feeding children who are both allergic and picky.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


 






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4 comments so far...
  1. I am a big fan of teaching kids to cook, early and often. My 9 year old can make his own omlettes, french toast, and refried black beans from scratch. His 7 year old brother is well on his way to being able to handle cookies and muffins on his own. They are both able to microwave their own leftovers for lunches, and they often prepare their own school lunches. I insist on supervising when the stove is on, but that is all I do - they are amazingly capable with a little training. And if they cook it, then they tend to eat it.

    Posted by BMS December 17, 09 09:03 AM
  1. I've had two picky eaters in my family, and one was allergic to foods (though not too many -- primarily nuts). We did not force anyone to eat -- but at the same time, I make what I make for dinner, and that's all there is. The picky eaters were free to turn up their noses at it, but I would not then jump through hoops to get something else together for them. I was just matter-of-fact about it: "This is what's for dinner, so if you are hungry, this is what there is for you to eat." The exception to this would be veggies -- they do need to eat their veggies before they can get up from the table. I've made an effort to find out in general what veggies are their relative favorites (not a discussion to have at the table, but at some other non-meal time) and I make those veggies as much as I can. But this approach has worked well for us. Kids who are truly hungry will eat, and if their hunger is not strong enough to overcome their dislike of the food, that's okay.

    Posted by jlen December 17, 09 09:17 AM
  1. As the parent of a severely allergic (almost) 8 yr old who is also incredibly picky, I can totally identify! And I can reiterate what the other commenters have mentioned, that getting my son involved in cooking has helped a great deal. It didn't solve the problem - he still regularly turns up his nose at something he had been enjoying for a few weeks - but it did get him to eat a wider variety of items, and for a longer period of time. Knowing exactly what went into each meal made him happy, as he knew he liked each ingredient separately, and that we weren't "sneaking" anything different in.

    I hope that you find the thing that will help YOUR family.

    Posted by Heather J December 17, 09 12:25 PM
  1. Don't make it a war.

    Say calmly "this is your breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack and you can eat it or not."

    Empower him to read labels and let him do some of his grocery shopping, or allow him to pack his own lunch or make his own dinner. He's 8, not 8 months old.

    Make sure he understands what's going on with his allergies. Does he know the consequences of not obeying his dietary restrictions? Let him have a private conversation with his allergist where he can ask questions and have them answered.

    Posted by C December 17, 09 01:31 PM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. I am a big fan of teaching kids to cook, early and often. My 9 year old can make his own omlettes, french toast, and refried black beans from scratch. His 7 year old brother is well on his way to being able to handle cookies and muffins on his own. They are both able to microwave their own leftovers for lunches, and they often prepare their own school lunches. I insist on supervising when the stove is on, but that is all I do - they are amazingly capable with a little training. And if they cook it, then they tend to eat it.

    Posted by BMS December 17, 09 09:03 AM
  1. I've had two picky eaters in my family, and one was allergic to foods (though not too many -- primarily nuts). We did not force anyone to eat -- but at the same time, I make what I make for dinner, and that's all there is. The picky eaters were free to turn up their noses at it, but I would not then jump through hoops to get something else together for them. I was just matter-of-fact about it: "This is what's for dinner, so if you are hungry, this is what there is for you to eat." The exception to this would be veggies -- they do need to eat their veggies before they can get up from the table. I've made an effort to find out in general what veggies are their relative favorites (not a discussion to have at the table, but at some other non-meal time) and I make those veggies as much as I can. But this approach has worked well for us. Kids who are truly hungry will eat, and if their hunger is not strong enough to overcome their dislike of the food, that's okay.

    Posted by jlen December 17, 09 09:17 AM
  1. As the parent of a severely allergic (almost) 8 yr old who is also incredibly picky, I can totally identify! And I can reiterate what the other commenters have mentioned, that getting my son involved in cooking has helped a great deal. It didn't solve the problem - he still regularly turns up his nose at something he had been enjoying for a few weeks - but it did get him to eat a wider variety of items, and for a longer period of time. Knowing exactly what went into each meal made him happy, as he knew he liked each ingredient separately, and that we weren't "sneaking" anything different in.

    I hope that you find the thing that will help YOUR family.

    Posted by Heather J December 17, 09 12:25 PM
  1. Don't make it a war.

    Say calmly "this is your breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack and you can eat it or not."

    Empower him to read labels and let him do some of his grocery shopping, or allow him to pack his own lunch or make his own dinner. He's 8, not 8 months old.

    Make sure he understands what's going on with his allergies. Does he know the consequences of not obeying his dietary restrictions? Let him have a private conversation with his allergist where he can ask questions and have them answered.

    Posted by C December 17, 09 01:31 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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