Picky eater central

So we had the long-awaited meeting with the food specialist nutritionist doctor lady yesterday. I’m honestly not exactly sure what you’d call her, but she’s in the gastroenterology department of Children’s Hospital, and she seemed to be exactly the right person to talk to to begin with, so if you’re hunting up information on super picky eaters, that might be the sort of place you would start.

First of all, I didn’t get lost finding it, didn’t ding anyone else in the parking lot (I never have done, but if I’m going to do it, chances are it’ll happen at a vital moment like just before a medical appointment we’ve waited two months for) and got through the iron-clad security of the hospital front desk. So that augured well.

The doctor talked to Dash and to me for a long time, asking me about what he ate as a baby, right from the beginning of solids, and asking him about what he eats now, and how he feels when he thinks about trying new foods, and so on. She was totally non-judgemental and was very nice when Dash wandered off at tangents that seemed irrelevant but would eventually turn out to be actually quite pertinent, if you had the patience to listen all the way to the end. I didn’t have to get defensive at all – she really just wanted to know what he eats, not why I didn’t give him x, y, or z. She has a superpicky daughter herself, so she knew EXACTLY how life is.

There’s no question, she said in the end, that Dash is a supertaster, and probably a supersmeller as well. He has what they call “Oral Hypersensitivites” and “Sensory Food Aversions”. Which is just a fancy way of saying he’s super picky, but I like it because it means there’s a physical reason, and it’s not because I fed him oatmeal at 2pm instead of 2.30pm one day when he was 7 months old. Or whatever.

I’m probably not going to go round telling everyone “Oh, he’s a supertaster” because it does sound pretty poncy, actually, I realise. But it makes a difference to me. And, I think, to him. He’s not just not trying new foods because he’s a stubborn brat (me), or because he’s not as brave as other kids (him). It is actually legitimately harder for him. That’s something I’ve known at least since his sister started on solids, but it’s nice to hear it from an outside source.

The upshot is as follows; no quick fixes here, I’m afraid:

– We got a blood draw to check that he has no deficiencies that aren’t obvious to the naked eye. (Not that he has any deficiencies that are, either.)

– He needs to start taking a daily vitamin with iron. Extracting a promise that he would do that was not easy for the doctor, but he did agree eventually. (In case you didn’t know, the gummy vitamins don’t have iron, but the Flintstones Complete chewable ones do. He used to take a vitamin but started to refuse a while ago when one sort was too sugary and the other was too … I don’t know … something…)

– He needs to start eating with us at the table again. This has fallen off lately in spite of all my earlier great intentions, what with baseball games at 6pm twice a week, and other things. We will go back to the bigger table so he can sit as far away as possible from the smells of other food that assault his nose so terribly.

– Breakfast cereal with added vitamins and minerals (like the frosted mini-wheats he eats so many of) are actually very good because they’re probably the only place he’s getting those micronutrients at the moment. So, extra servings of mini-wheats all round!

– The doctor will set up an appointment with a psychologist who will take it from here, working with Dash to list what foods he’d like to try, which ones he thinks will be easiest and hardest, and then taking it back to first principles and starting with touching the food, getting familiar with it, finally licking it, etc.

(I do feel like in theory I should be able to do that myself instead of spending time and money having someone else do it. On the other hand, I’ve been trying to do it since he was a baby and clearly haven’t succeeded. Probably the mere fact that it’s someone other than a parent asking you will help. Not to mention the fact that I’m not, in actual fact, a food therapist.)

– Big thing: We have to leave a three-hour gap between meals/snacks. So he should come home from school at 3.30 and have a big snack. As much as he wants to eat in 15-30 minutes. And then nothing more until dinner at 6.30. I don’t know how I’m going to withstand the whining, but we’ll try hard to deal.

– Finally, the doctor made sure that Dash himself wants to eat new foods. She said she gets plenty of parents who want their child to eat more foods, but until the child wants to, there’s no point in working with them. At 8, Dash is pretty young for this, apparently, but she was happy to go ahead and said the psychologist will tease out if he’s definitely ready or not ready at this point.

The reasoning here, she said, is that there’s a window between about 1 and 3 years when children are willing to taste new foods. From about 4 to 8 that window closes, and therapy won’t really help until they’re older and social reasons for wanting to eat a greater variety of foods kick in, like wanting to eat out with friends. I think Dash’s worries about what he’ll eat when we’re on holiday and his unwillingness to do camp this summer because he thinks he’ll be teased about his lunch fall into that category. He’s very aware that all the other kids eat more things than he does.

Dash eating an ice cream

Dash contemplates lemon custard ice cream, which he has no problems with, luckily.

13 thoughts on “Picky eater central

  1. Jennifer Thorson (@breadwinesalt)

    Glad to hear there’s a plan. It’s always nice to have a plan.

    And I’m happy to hear about the 4-8 window, because Bird has been getting progressively pickier after a very promising toddler-hood. Maybe he’ll come out of it in the next few years.

  2. Joanna

    Very interesting about the age windows, well, it’s all very interesting but I was surprised at that small 1-3 years window for the willingness to try new foods, that would probably explain a lot to many parents.

    1. Maud Post author

      I don’t think it’s absolute – my 5yo just tried chicken nuggets for the first time because her 9yo friend likes them. But the motivation to branch out just isn’t there, for the most part, I suppose.

  3. sophia

    Just recently found your blog and wanted to comment on your picky eating food post. I also have a super picky eater with a severely limited diet and hyper sensitivities to smell, taste etc. One thing that we have found that has worked amazingly well is getting him what we call “a smeller”. I found it at a natural food store and it is a little thing that looks like chapstick, but it is for people who have a cold–its filled with eucalyptus and some other minty smells and you’re supposed to sniff it for relief. I think Vicks makes them too–an inhaler thing. My son had such aversions to food smells that it was difficult to take him places (even just to the grandparents house) at meal times because he would seriously freak out about cooking smells. We now routinely use the smeller to great success. We can even order thai food and he’ll sit at the table with us and eat his plain noodles and whenever the smell gets too bad for him he takes a sniff of his smeller. If your son can tolerate minty smells I would highly recommend the smeller for you too. My son seems to relax a bit just knowing if a smell is bad he can find relief with his smeller and he keeps it near his place at the table. I think having control helps him as much as the minty smell. Prior to using the smeller we had also tried scented candles, which also worked but were kind of gross for the rest of us.
    Anyway, seeing your note about smells I thought you might benefit by our experience. Best of luck to you and thanks for documenting your progress–my son is 4 and not ready to try anything new, but we’ll be doing that whole touch, lick progression when he is ready.

    1. Maud Post author

      Hi, and thank you for taking the time to comment. That sounds like a really great idea – my son likes minty things – and I will be putting it into practice as soon as I can! I’ll let you know how it works out.

  4. Belle

    This is really very interesting. I often wonder about Tabitha – she only eats very bland food; mozzarella cheese, pasta, mayo, milk, cereal, veggie/quorn nuggets. She can’t do fizzy drinks and won’t eat things like ketchup but has NO problem with sweet stuff.

    1. Maud Post author

      I think it’s pretty usual for them to eat bland food at that age. I mean, that sounds like a fairish spread to me. Dash NEVER eats fruit, veg, meat, fish, eggs, cheese, pasta, pizza, rice, potatoes (except thin chips)… you get the idea. He’s really very limited and specific in his tastes. His sister, in contrast, is a fairly picky eater, but she’s what I’d consider “normal picky”.

    1. Maud Post author

      I’m delighted if it’s helpful for you. (Did you ever wonder if your picky husband might be a supertaster?!)

  5. SarahJayBee

    I’ve found these posts really interesting. Thanks for sharing! Hoping these little steps make a big difference for Dash.

  6. Pingback: The cool kids | Awfully Chipper

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