So your kid's a picky eater?

Thursday, February 20, 2014
It's about time I update on this topic.

Just over a year ago, just after we moved to Texas, I had decided I had had it.

I had had it with Henry not eating more than a chocolate store bought donut and plain noodles.

I had had it with people from all walks of my life telling me he was

a: small because I'm small and he got the small genes
b: he's a toddler, he will outgrow it. all toddlers are picky.
c: he's meeting all his milestones, he's just fine.
d: my kid, this kid, that kid I know, my niece, my nephew, my friend down the street. everyone had a story of this kid they knew that didn't eat. IT'S NORMAL Jenna.

Nope, nope it's not. It wasn't.

1 year ago, my kid didn't eat pb & j sandwhiches. He didn't eat grilled cheese. He didn't eat any vegetables. He didn't want plain spaghetti sauce on his noodles. If he attempted pizza, the cheese would have to be ripped off. He didn't even know what mac and cheese was. Hot dogs. Cheeseburgers. Cereal bars. CEREAL. Normal, picky toddlers eat ALL THAT STUFF. My kid didn't, he wasn't normal. And I'm not afraid to say or admit it.

Now, when I tell you he didn't eat this stuff. It wasn't that it was put on the table and he simply stated "I don't want this.". No, no, no. A little sensory aversion mixed with some anxiety made it impossible to even put said food on his plate. Screaming. Freak outs. Almost.every.night. He had dropped so many of his previous staples after moving that this kid was literally eating next to nothing. McDonald's chicken nuggets were even hard to come by. French fries from any other restaurant were a crap shoot.

I can pinpoint when are eating struggles started with him His 4 month well check visit. Yes, if you haven't been along on this ride that long, you read that right. 4 freaking months old.

I had gone back to work, my milk supply tank, and I felt failure for the first time as a young mother when he gained a mere two ounces from 2 to 4 months.

As with many moms, I was told to start supplementing with formula, that'll help no problem.

Only it didn't. at 6 months he weighed 16 pounds. 25%tile. And it all went downhill from there.

Baby food started out ok, but after about 1.5 months of it, you couldn't get a vegetable in his mouth. Table food started out ok, but I constantly, CONSTANTLY worried about how much he should have been eating while we watched that weight gain do next to nothing for 6 months. At 15 months, linked here, he wasn't even 20 pounds yet. 19 pounds. 3 pounds gained in 9 months. Virtually nothing gained in 6 months.

Finally, finally, at that point, my then pediatrician decided it wasn't normal.  If you re-read that post, we were told to "fatten him up" with lots of carbs, add olive oil to noodles, and bacon, etc. and we were also told to start giving him pediasure for extra nutrients. Even at this point, knowing something was wrong, I didn't think it would get as bad as it did. They also did a whole panel of test for things like gluten intolerance and a bunch of other stuff that all came back fine. But, we were also told at some point around here that a toddler just needs 1 good meal every 2-3 days. Super.

I can't even remember what he would eat at this point. I do remember that after a month of adding a bottle of pediasure per day, the kid finally made it over the 20 pound mark. You know, at like 17 months or something like that.

As we approached the summer he turned two, we just learned to deal with the fact that he'd eat very little of anything. The things he did eat, he wouldn't barely scratch the surface of. As my pregnancy with Claire went on, we tried doing more play dates and his social anxiety issues became my focus, along with adding a newborn into his life.

In December of 2011, he was evaluated by the Birth to 3 team, where nothing was discovered except that he has some sensory issues that they couldn't qualify him on, and that he was incredibly bright.

I'll skip over all the social stuff. That's a whole 'nother post.

So again. We just became use to him not eating anything. We probably, admittedly, stopped even trying new things. What was the point of going through freak outs every night. There was nothing, no gimmicks, no rewards, no nothing that would get him to try even the kid friendliest looking food.

It just became worse and worse. I do know that from like 12-18 months, he ate a few things that he wouldn't touch beyond that (like beans and turkey deli meat). Then little sister Claire started eating table food, and eating anything we put in front of her, so as Claire approached her 1st birthday, I knew something had to be done.

A fill in pediatrician agreed (we hadn't seen our regular one that particular day), as he was not even on the charts anymore at his 3rd birthday and gave us info for private OT therapy for what we assumed was some strong sensory aversions to food and trying new food.

Only, the end of October 2012 came and we were faced with the biggest decision of our lives in deciding to move to Texas. That took the forefront, but I knew this was going to be my number one priority after we settled into our new home.

I called around and much to my surprise, our insurance covered the eval and we had just a $20 copay per visit, for up to 100 visits per year.

After moving, he had dropped almost all regular staples. I am not kidding, stretching the truth, or exaggerating when I say this kid literally was eating chocolate donuts for breakfast and plain noodles/fruit for lunch and/or dinner. And they had to be spaghetti noodles. We couldn't even mess around with elbows, people. Dinner time was awful. We couldn't enjoy it. I didn't know what to make. Freak outs about everything. No one was happy.

He was evaluated just weeks after we moved by a Speech and Language Pathologist who would also become his therapist. Something had to change. If he was a normal picky kid, he'd be eating all that stuff I'd listed in the beginning.

I'm fairly certain I cried while I sat in on his eval. It was basically his therapist putting a bunch of foods in front of him to see what he'd do. Now, of course, it was a new person, new situation, etc. But this kid was literally screaming bloody murder and trying to jump out of the chair when she placed fruity Cheerios in front of him. Fruity Cheerios, people. I knew immediately, he was going to qualify. My tears were of both sadness and relief, knowing that we'd finally, finally get some answers and help.

It took 4 sessions for him to try a tiny bite of something new. It was a fig newton. I cried. Followed closely by cereal bars. She chained like food together based on characteristics and likeness. Using similar shapes, colors, and consistencies to get him to try the next new thing.

In the beginning it was all about "easy" stuff. The stuff he should eat no problem, like cereal bars, different crackers, etc.

We would use progression charts at home to work on harder stuff like vegetables (corn and peas, specifically at first). I wish I could link a photo, but I'm just too lazy for that. But it went something like this. Each day we used it, it was expected that he went one step further than the last.

-Tolerating it on the table.
-Tolerating it on his plate.
-Putting it on his plate himself.
-Smelling it
-Licking it
-Taking a bite and spitting it out
-Taking a bite, chewing, and spitting it out.
-Bite, chew, swallow.

There were A LOT more steps in there, but those were the big ones. A kid eating, (one like mine that had issues) is NOT JUST about taking a bite and swallowing. There are SO MANY steps before that. So many successes we could praise for before it even got in his mouth. This was the first big eye opener for us.

She'd play games. She'd use tokens, timers, lights, spinners, patterns, "washer-downers" (what she called his preferred things, like an applesauce pouch, that he could use to wash down the taste of something not preferred). I posted a video of a session here :

By summertime last year, we were getting to the good stuff. Vegetables, eggs, beans, quinoa, CHEESEBURGERS, HOT DOGS, MAC AND CHEESE, oatmeal, etc. These were all the "hard" things. Things I never thought he'd eat at one point. I cried at each one. He progressed quickly over the summer and simply loved his therapist.

He'd have set backs, and he's always struggled more at home. Always. But anything we'd have for supper that he wouldn't eat, she'd get him to try the leftovers the next day. I struggled with that for a while from late summer to the end of this year. How she'd get him to eat anything, where we couldn't. Literally, by early/mid fall, he would try ANYTHING for her. I won't even list it. Mid fall, I made a list of all the common things I made, or that we'd get going out that he hadn't tried yet. By the end of the year, he'd tried them all. Things like tacos, grilled chicken, lo mein, sesame chicken, lettuce, etc. etc. etc.

While he ate better with Holly, we were still worlds, if not light years away from where we had come. By the time the new year came, she simply explained to me there was nothing else she could do for him. He was her best eater and he did awesome for her. The ball was in our court to continue.

She had prepared me for this for a while, so I knew his dismissal was coming. And when she finally explained it that way, I knew she was right. Short of joining us for dinner several nights a week, there was nothing else she could do. Her environment was specifically set up for her and him to work on eating. And it worked. He had new preferred foods. He was eating things I had never dreamed he'd ever try. And liking them! This kid LOVES oatmeal! And mac and cheese!  

Our environment is just different, and kids are always different for someone else than their parents.

His dismissal did come at a good time though. Since the start of the year, I've found that I can finally, finally, at his age of 4.5 years old make most whatever I want and he will at least try it, if not eat it and like it. Or, at the very least, I'll separate things to make it less "scary" for him. For instance, I made Grilled Chicken salads with mango and avocado salsa the other night. I separated out the mango, chicken and lettuce and he nearly cleaned his plate. Very rarely do I make him something different. We've been eating a lot of fish lately, and that's about the only thing I can't get him to do yet. We even got him to eat minestrone soup the other night.

But he's so brave now. He's so proud of himself. He was so proud to "graduate" from Miss Holly's. He was ready too. He loves her, but he was ready to be done with feeding therapy.

We are in a good, good place now. The behaviors seem to lessen weekly at dinner time. He's learning that our rules are our rules and he's  freaking out less and less when he's told how many bites he needs to take of something. He's interested in dinner, and always asks what I'm making and gets excited if it's something he really enjoys.

This kid actually out-eats Claire most of the time now. Funny how she's trying less than he is. BUT, now I know what a normal picky toddler is. She eats mac and cheese. And noodles with sauce. And pizza. And cereal with milk, and any french fry you give her. She doesn't want to eat minestrone soup, peppers, or oatmeal. And that's ok. That, my friends, IS normal.

So is your kid a picky eater? Does he/she eat all that normal stuff? Or do you struggle daily with getting them to eat anything? There is a difference my friends. A big, big, difference.

My kid WASN'T a picky eater. He, as his official eval stated had a "Severe Feeding Disorder characterized by Sensory aversion".
But we beat it. We won. Good job buddy, we are SO SO proud of you.

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