I am thrilled to share this brave and devoted mom’s story, who turned her family’s mealtime battleground into mealtime bliss. She ended her own mealtime warfare, not by getting tough, but by paying attention, by being a responsive parent and by removing pressure from the table.
My adopted daughter was born drug positive for cocaine, with prenatal exposure to an assortment of drugs and alcohol. She’s been in my care since she was three days old. I watched this innocent, tortured child suffer through five months of withdrawal, helplessly unable to comfort her. To carry her from her crib to her changing table caused her great pain, simply because I was touching her. My daughter was born an addict, no different than the junkie entering rehab.
Her eating delays became quite apparent at 9 months, as she would punch you if you approached her with a spoon. Attempt, after attempt, her defensive reaction heightened and was delivered with swiftness. We went for an evaluation with the Speech Department/Rehab at the Children’s hospital, a floor of the hospital that recognized us with familiarity already. She went stiff and rigid in the high chair when the therapist put a bib on her, and it went very sour, very quickly. She refused to even look at a high chair from that point on. I attempted to feed her picnic style during those months -sitting on a blanket on the floor. To this day, she calls it her picnic blanket. The therapist still claims that my daughter is the most defensive child to ever come through the therapy group at our Children’s hospital. Ever.
Now two and a half years old, we have made unimaginable strides in trust and bonding. My darling little cuddle bug, she is. She takes supplemental formula, and eats around 300 calories from food choices on a good day. Recently, we learned that she has food intolerances to dairy, soy, and corn – all of which were in her infant and toddler formula. What if her eating phobia and defensiveness stems from her first feeding experiences? The formula made her tummy feel bad, yet we kept giving that to her as the only option for food. I had no way of knowing, as her discomfort was easily disguised by symptoms of withdrawal, and I accepted our therapists’ diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder when she was four months old, long before I even considered that it was possible that she could be reacting to what she was eating.
She will eat fries and hashbrowns in any shape or form, so that is what I typically offer as her safe food. She will eat breaded chicken strips with her fingers. Recently, she asked me to cut her chicken strip into “pieces”, and, for the first time in her life, ate the pieces with a fork. I broke down in joyful tears because she doesn’t have to inspect it with her hands first. She just trusts that the chicken strips I give her are safe to eat.
We regularly have a cereal slurping session during the evenings, too, where she will now completely participate with either dry cereal or a little bit of milk added. She eats roasted sunflower seeds, raisins, crackers, dried fruit, chips. Her only wet foods are yogurt (and only out of it’s original container), applesauce (and only out of a pouch), and frozen banana or mango puree. She will touch a soon to be accepted food and feed it to me for months before she is ready to try it herself. Lately, she’s been feeding me raw apples, pears, bacon, and frozen peas. I bread carrots and asparagus and add it to our hashbrowns and chicken strips (I make them all by hand) and she is at least touching them. I’m just started reading “Love Me Feed Me” and the no pressure approach. I can’t wait to start fine-tuning what we have already been doing!”
Buffet style working, working, working! We are in the beginning stages of this approach, but it is truly a happy dinner table! My daughter is handling foods by placing them on everyone’s plates and tonight, she put EVERYTHING up to her mouth. OMG!!!! Both my daughter and son nearly fight to set the table and sit and wait until I get everything in front of them. Not so great at clearing the table, though – LOL! I’m heading to the glassware place next week to pick out some perfect serving bowls and spoons for our new dinner parties – can’t wait!
Tonight, my daughter set the table and carried the bowl of sliced watermelon to the center. I was getting something out of the oven, and I look over and she was going to town licking it, sucking on it, she had a full plate of it! She didn’t eat any, but now she knows about watermelon!
We had spaghetti, breaded chicken, green beans, grated cheese, marinara sauce – all in serving bowls. Prior to the buffet style, if I would have sat down in front of her with a plate of spaghetti noodles, she would have fussed and became defensive – and certainly would never have touched them. Tonight, she served herself, placing each item on her plate. She ate half of a chicken strip. I purposely pushed one strip into her sauce pile when she wasn’t looking. (We do food chaining, too.) Sure enough, she noticed. But she still ate around the sauce!!!! That is new!
Then, she peeled her green beans apart to find the seeds, and started placing them in their own pile. She is really close to eating a bean seed! And for the spaghetti noodles? They got fondled as well, and for quite some time! She fed them to me, mostly, but that is how most of her accepted foods have made it to her mouth. She LOVES to set the table, and carry items to the center. We have been in feeding therapy for 1.5 years with a speech therapist, as she began with swallowing issues, we think. We have only been to doing this buffet model for 2 weeks (or less) and it has certainly changed the playing field at our house…literally!
I am currently shopping for serving bowls that can be more…..creative. I found a beautiful cabbage leaf bowl that we will call our “vegetable” bowl. I have a watermelon serving bowl, as well. I am also searching for a lazy susan to accommodate all this. My older child is a “picky” eater, and I’ve seen great strides in his level of willingness and tolerance of the foods he would have normally passed on.
Since we have begun the buffet style dinners combined with the Division of Responsibility, coming to the table to eat is highly anticipated. What I did before this is make a plate for everyone from the stove, then sit the plates at our chairs, and call everyone to the table. My picky was getting pickier, and my selective was getting OUT OF THERE! Now, as the food cools, the kids nearly fight with each other over who is going to set the table and carry the serving dishes!
Mr. Picky is doing much better, as he gets to choose what corner his food comes out of the serving dish. He eats, then wants to leave the table. I ask him to wait at the table with no obligation to eat, just keep us company, and he ends up eating more! Little Miss Selective takes lots of time with her examinations and takes occasional bites of the safes in the process.
When everyone is finished, my husband and son will start clearing the plates. I sit around with slow-poke. Then I will excuse myself, and one by one, start removing serving dishes. Before I do, I ask, “do you want one last scoop?” and secretly do cheers as she accepts more food. But this is also delivering the message that dinner time is ending, and it is time to move forward with our evening. Once, she even hopped out of her chair and came into the kitchen to me and said, “More!”.
My point of this story is that creating structure gives clear expectations of what comes next. My kids also know that closer to bedtime, we meet in the kitchen to look for a snack. Sometimes, they want to carry pretzels to the TV room. Sometimes, we decide we are going to make “nice cream” (frozen bananas made into soft serve texture), and they love to help with that. Sometimes, everyone slurps cereal at the table. My son has begun to ask me if there are leftovers of what we had for dinner! And he is eating very well at dinner! He used to refuse anything that was reheated.
I can’t believe that just a month ago, our table was an unhappy place for everyone, if they even came to the table. My son would want to leave after two minutes. My daughter didn’t want to be there at all. My husband would want it all to be over and I used to be furious with everyone, and end up sitting alone. A month later, I feel like I’m dreaming.
I attended the Mother/Daughter Tea and they served unfrosted muffins. “Not very fancy”, I thought, thinking “they could have done a little better here.” Anyhow, they started serving us and they put a muffin in front of my daughter. I giggled when they put another flavor down in front of me and thought, “Oh, good, I’ll get to try both”. She’s never, EVER, eaten a muffin.
Before the prayer, the teacher explained that she had a wonderful surprise for one of the moms, and it would just “be understood.” Prayer was over, and it was time for treats. My daughter peeled back the paper, and DEVOURED her muffin! All eyes were watching my reaction. They taught my daughter to eat cakes! They had been working with this since her first sign of interest. They had been learning and paying close attention to all I’ve been saying about our methods, our progress, our failures. I sat and cried at a tea party, touched by the generosity and feeling so amazingly grateful.
After I excused myself and bawled with pride and joy (while seated on a very low potty), my daughter’s pre-school teachers explained that it took a lot of tweaks and trials to come up with the presentation for her. The learned that no frosting was key, and no colors from fruit specks. One of the caregivers actually baked every week since November to work on this. My daughter’s food intake is up to 500 calories a day, and now with muffins on her list of accepted food, probably more!
How, just how, can I ever, ever, ever pay this back?
Back is not a direction parents of selective eating kids ever want to go. We tend to pay this sort of charity forward, because that’s where generous gifts of kindness truly flourish.
THIS is the power of no-pressure feeding. Getting tough on your picky eater is only a recipe for problems, the very same problems that removing pressure from the table solves. Whether you are struggling with a picky eater, a selective eater, or you have a child that eats everything in sight, ask yourself this: Do you accept advice from a celebrity who admits he struggles at mealtimes with his own family, or do you trust the advice of a mom who serves trust, joy and hope with every meal?
The “experts” would be wise to offer less advice to parents, and spend a lot more time listening to them.