Category Archives: eating

Tiny victories in selective eating

I know you’re all dying to know how the new dinner thing is going. Did we finally crack it? Or did I just crack, again?

I cannot tell a lie, at least not here on the blog, so I have to admit that once again we fell at about the second fence and it all came to pieces as soon as I blogged about how great I was and how we were finally on the right track. Of course it did. Will I never learn to keep my big trap (fingers) shut (still)?

BUT.

There’s a but. (Not a butt. Stop giggling there in the back row.) Reading the book and finding the blog were good, but joining a Facebook group for parents of selective eaters has really opened my eyes and given me a healthy dose of perspective on what we’re facing, how bad it is in the grand scheme of things, and what’s important.

There are parents in the group who have fussy toddlers, in a totally normal and age-appropriate way, babies and little kids who are exercising their newly found power by refusing food, or demanding only certain foods, or not eating things they’ve always eaten in the past. There are parents of kids like mine, who are picky and selective and have limited diets by their own choosing and who won’t “eat when they’re hungry enough” no matter how much you assume that’ll be the case.

And there are parents of children who are traumatized around food because they had such terrible reflux that their oesophagus was burned by acid, or who lack the muscle tone to swallow efficiently, or who have been badgered and bullied and terrorized so that they shut down around food, or who survive only thanks to liquid diet supplements, or whose parents celebrate when they eat a teaspoonful of solid food for the first time in a week, or who spent years on a feeding tube and have to learn how to eat from scratch.

Compared to these parents, I feel pretty lucky. My child has no allergies, no physical difficulty eating, is perfectly healthy despite his limited diet, and continues to grow apace.

It also brings home what an odd relationship we in the Western world have with food. Food is energy, food makes us grow, food is vital for life. And yet we insist on categorizing food into “good” and “bad.” Often we need to do something like this for ourselves because we have so much choice, such a bounty of sugar and salt and smooth and crunchy and deep-fried and processed that we’ve lost sight of the basics. But for these kids, food is food, and all food is good. A lot of it is about trusting that when offered a variety of foods, humans will, if they don’t have reasons to do otherwise, choose a selection that is healthful and eat as much as, but not more than, they need.

So by offering a bunch of different things at once, we can help our children trust themselves, and show them that we trust them. That’s the key to the Division of Responsibility (DOR) method.

It’s hard to do it perfectly: I clearly haven’t figured out how to do it at all. I have niggling issues with timing and fear of waste and how to balance one child’s needs and wants against the other’s. But here’s what’s changed for me in the past few weeks:

  • I am more understanding of Dash’s feelings. I don’t dismiss his food concerns as “illogical” or “ridiculous” even if they seem that way to me. I’m meeting him where he is, not trying to coerce him into coming over to my way of thinking.
  • I am more likely to keep foods he likes in the house, because they’re his safe foods, even if they don’t seem particularly “good” to me. Things like tortilla chips or Sun Chips or plain bagels. I resisted this for so long, partly because I have no self-control around Sun Chips, but mostly because at some level apparently I still felt that if he was hungry enough he’d eat “better” foods. That’s not true, and has clearly not ever been true for him. I’m learning to let go of that notion and have food in the house that he’s happy to eat.

Basically, I’m being nicer to Dash: less impatient, more understanding. It’s nice to be nice to him; I think deep down inside I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be nice about food, but this is better. (It’s interesting the things I continue to discover about me, not about him, as we go deeper into this.)

So, for instance, when we were away this weekend I promised to always remember to ask while ordering his french fries whether there’s seasoning on them, and if they can please not do that. Before, we’ve not said anything and sometimes fries will come out with pepper on them, or – heaven forfend! – a sprinkling of parsley flakes – and then there’s a row because I don’t like making a fuss and sending things back, and to me it’s silly to refuse to eat them over this tiny thing. But to him it’s a huge thing. And if we order them without seasoning up front, there’s no waste and no awkwardness and it’s perfectly easy for the restaurant too. Win-win, but something I’ve been so resistant to for no good reason except that it felt like pandering to the fussy child and I thought I shouldn’t do that.

I’m more able now to treat what might seem like tiny achievements as what they really are – big deals in the world of selective eating. This weekend he tried and liked two new foods! They were crinkle-cut fries and kettle corn, which might not sound like a great discovery to most of us, but let’s celebrate our victories where we find them. Taking an existing “safe food” – in this case, straight fries and plain salted popcorn – and expanding that to a variation in shape or flavour – is called food chaining, and it’s how a selective eater can start to expand their horizons while feeling secure and unthreatened.

So let’s call this a win. Just not the one I thought it was going to be.

Dash with food.

Happy with crinkle-cut chips and chocolate milk. An excellent lunch.

The food is not the point

I started reading the picky-eater book with a very defensive attitude. It had been recommended, and I felt ready to maybe tackle this thing again, but I didn’t want to. At every page turn I saw obstacles and roadblocks, reasons why I couldn’t do this, why it would never work for us. My inner monologue went something like this:

– But we can’t do that. He won’t even sit at the table.

– I don’t want to feed everyone together. I can’t get all that food ready at the same time.

– Think of the washing-up! All those serving plates! And we can’t fit all the food on the table in dishes as well as each person’s plate. We’d have to eat in the other room, where the table is covered in homework and filing, and where you have to walk a mile around the counter to bring everything there.

– How can I get us to sit down together? B comes home at 6 and the kids are yelling for dinner from about 4:30 on.

– This will never work. I don’t even see why I would want it to. What’s so great about sitting at the table? Sure, there are studies that say families that eat together every night have kids who are better behaved, more academically successful, more wonderful in every way… but my kids are pretty good already. Kinda. Why would I give myself all these headaches just to be “good”?

/Heaves giant sigh of put-upon-ness./

On the other hand, I have been starting to feel lately that, well, sometimes living here is like sharing a flat with short ungrateful people who never do their share of the cleaning up. What’s the point, really? When do we get to be a family, if we’re just the people who live in the same house as them and bring them to the places they need to be?

And I’m really sick of people announcing that they’re hungry, again, right when it’s bedtime or time to start their homework, or just when I’ve put away everything from dinner. All the separate dinners.

So maybe – just maybe – something wasn’t working so well after all. Maybe it was worth trying to make a change.

As I said yesterday, I really liked the fact that the authors said you can start a bit at a time. Going all-out with a totally new way of doing things is great sometimes, but I feel like that would be doomed to failure, for us. But small steps, when it’s easy-ish; I can maybe do that.

And the more I read the more I understood that what I’ve to aim for isn’t for Dash to be an adventurous eater. It’s not even, necessarily, for him to branch out much. It’s for us to all sit around the table and have a pleasant time. At the moment, that’s a big enough end-game to hope for, and also makes it seem a little more possible that this isn’t all a wild flight of fancy. Eating at the table is a social skill that both my kids lack right now, much as I pretend they don’t – and maybe it’s within my power to change that.

So I started out very small. I’d noticed that when Mabel goes to her friend’s house after school they have a snack at the table. I asked her how she’d feel about doing that at home. I figured if she was on board that would be a start, and maybe Dash would join in if there was no cooked food in the room with us at the time. She said it would be okay, she supposed. She sounded a little bit, secretly, happy about the prospect, even.

We had a snack at the table, served family style, sort of, as much as you can with apple slices and pretzels. Just me and her, and her brother for half a second before he flitted off. Since then we’ve had dinner at the table twice, the girl and her two parents and no brother, and snack at the table a couple more times. Dash says he can’t eat a sandwich at the table. It feels too weird. He runs away from french toast. He’s like a skittish kitten around humans for the first time. Maybe we’ll try pancakes over the weekend, because he likes those. (Not waffles. Won’t touch a waffle even though he knows the batter is practically identical.)

But the thing is, I think I get it. Mabel really likes it. I like it. It’s nice sitting at the dinner table having a conversation. It’s nice having Mabel there. It would be fun to have Dash there too, because he’s entertaining company. The food is not the point. I’m starting to understand.

 

The Picky-Eating Book – what you want to know

Well, I finished reading the book and I’m all fired up with renewed enthusiasm. I’m going to outline the basic plan from it in this post, and then I’ll write another post about what I’m thinking and planning and doing and how it’s going so far. (Very early days. But that’s why I have a “Best Intentions” tag.)

This is the book: Helping your Child with Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin.Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating - cover of book

When I showed it to Dash he spotted the flaw in the title’s phrasing immediately, and said he didn’t need any help with picky eating. Indeed: he’s an expert. But I read it anyway. And it was good.

This book is entirely complementary to everything Ellyn Satter wrote in How to Get Your Kid to Eat (and, I’m sure, her other books; that’s the one I’ve read). It takes Satter’s principles of Division of Responsibility (DOR) and draws them out to show you how to work it for an extremely picky eater, or a child who has physical problems that make it hard for them to eat, or even a child who’s been fed by a tube and is transitioning to solids. (And I thought I had it bad.)

Division of Responsibility, if you’re not familiar with it and didn’t just follow that link, means that you are responsible for where and when eating takes place, and what food is offered. The child is responsible for what and how much they eat.

The whole premise of the plan is that you get your child to the table, and once they’re there you take all the pressure off. You make the table a pleasant place to be, not one where they’re bugged and hounded and stressed about what they should and shouldn’t eat. You put a bunch of food on the table and everyone takes what they want and nobody talks about who’s eating what or how much. And your child always has at least one or two of their “safe” foods available, so they don’t have to go outside their comfort zone until they’re ready to.

The first part of the book basically lays to rest most parents’ fears and guilt about their child’s eating. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you did, and we can help you fix this without pressure or anxiety or making your kid cry. It talks about how if the dinner table is a place associated with stress and fear, your child is very unlikely to want to eat or to enjoy their food.

There are a few key points to the plan:

  • You schedule “eating opportunities” at regular intervals, following the same principles for snacks as for meals (and maybe offering something more nutritious then than you might have thought of; chicken nuggets, anyone?) So if they don’t eat much at dinner, they know there’ll be another chance for food in a little while.
  • You serve meals and snacks “family style”, meaning that you put everything on the table and each person helps themselves, or is helped if they can’t manage.
  • You put one or two of your child’s safe foods on the table, always available. If they eat nothing but bread rolls for days on end, say nothing.
  • You put the dessert on the table too. They can eat it whenever they want. No bribery, no “do this to get this.” It’s food, just like everything else.
  • You don’t encourage anyone to eat anything. You don’t say “Mmm, try some of this,” or “Just take a bite,” or “You need to eat some protein” or “That’s not enough to fill you up.” Just don’t. You can talk about how you like your food, and you can ask them not to “yuck someone else’s yum” – that is, not to say something on the table doesn’t look good, but mostly you’re there to enjoy a pleasant time with family. The food is not the focus.

The book goes on to show how you can plan meals that everyone will eat (at least some part of), and offers suggestions for ways to manage if you don’t have time for cooking or don’t want to cook much yourself. It also gives lots of advice for parents of children who have physical difficulties eating, and discusses types of therapy that might be useful and how to approach these. They also talk about how to deal with eating out of the home – at a restaurant, with other family members, or with friends.

My favourite part was near the end, when they said you don’t have to do this all at once. It’s not an approach that’s doomed to failure if you don’t go cold turkey on your old, bad ways and turn over a new leaf that never turns back. It accepts that maybe you can only commit to one step at a time, and that things might backslide for a while, but that you can keep going and this will become your new normal and it will work. I also really like that this is a plan for the whole family, not just something you’re doing for (or with, or especially to) the picky eater in your life.

Sounds good, eh? Come back for the next post to see what’s happening in real life.

Far-from-beige cauliflower and a discovery

I made Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce for dinner and it was so delicious that I’m going to give you the whole recipe, since I didn’t do it exactly the way the recipe I used told me to. I got this from Jill at Proper Fud, but I don’t think she ever blogged it, so here I am filling that gap.

First, put on some fancy wild rice mix to cook. Don’t boil it till it’s crunchy like I did. Or just use regular rice, whatever.
Then turn on the oven to 400 F and make the sauce while that heats up.

The sauce is exactly as given in the recipe:

  • ½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 roasted red pepper (from a jar)
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 50ml water

Sorry, Americans, for the metric. You’ll have to weigh stuff. (I love my digital scales. So handy.)

Whizz all that up in your food processor. I use the mini-blender attachment of my Braun Multimix that they don’t make any more so you can’t buy one – it’s just the right size and so much easier on the washing up than the big processor. First I ground the almonds in it, then added the bread to make the breadcrumbs, and then put in everything else and gave it a good blend. I end up with quite a dollop-y sauce, but if you wanted it more pour-y you could just add a bit more water, I’m sure.

Your oven is probably hot enough by now. Get a cauliflower and break it into florets. Spread them on an oiled baking sheet and sprinkle a teaspoon more of the smoked paprika over them, and a drizzle of oil. Into the oven with it.

After 20-25 mins the cauliflower will be roasted and a little charred around the edges. Try not to burn the rice like I did. Serve the cauliflower on the rice with dollops of sauce on top. The sauce really brings this whole thing to the next level and makes it a totally delicious dinner. A glass of wine  brings out even more facets of flavours, if you like that sort of thing.


Oh, and a discovery. Dash’s testing results came back with some helpful recommendations for all sorts of things, including his eating situation. The doctor mentioned a book called Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating. I was sceptical because I’ve done all that, read the books – they just make me depressed and guilty – but I looked it up on Amazon anyway and checked out the reviews. One mentioned a website, so I took a look:
https://mealtimehostage.com/.

About 30 seconds later, all sorts of lightbulbs were going off in my brain. The website talks about Selective Eating Disorder, which is now called ARFID, and is an official thing people have. Here are some excerpts from the site.

Selective eating disorder was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in May 2013, and renamed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is food refusal due to highly selective intake, lack of interest in eating, or fear of the unpleasant effects of eating without concerns of body image or weight.

“A selective eater will NOT “eat when they get hungry.” If you implement a technique designed to “wait them out” or “exert your parental control,” if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever.

Children and adults with ARFID experience strong disgust reactions to the sight, smell and even the mere thought of eating unfamiliar food, which can create significant distress for eating in social settings.

Patients with ARFID are […] more likely to have a co-morbid anxiety disorder, learning disorder, or cognitive impairment […].

Therapy that focuses exclusively on the eating fails to consider the eating disturbance in its wider context as a relationship between the individual eating the food and the person who provides it.

DING DING DING!!! All the boxes, checked. All the Dash’s-eating things, making sense. I have joined the FB group and ordered the book. I read this entry and all the things I do, that are mostly for a quiet life and just because I hate causing, or suffering, angst, were suddenly validated and turn out to be okay.

So that’s a thing, and maybe it will lead to some developments. No cauliflower for him. Not yet.

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.

Blocked

I’m a little blocked up. Congested. My head is full of stuff and nothing’s coming out.

This is both the literal truth and a metaphor. I have a cold (thanks, Mabel) but I’m also waiting for things to resolve before I blog about them. Which is silly, because life never resolves. It moves on, but it’s not done (till it’s done). It’s not as if they’re secrets; just that I like having the end, or an end of sorts, to tell when I tell the beginning. Making a complete narrative, like.

It’s mostly Dash-related, so there’s also the writing-about-your children thing that raises its head more the older they get. When does it stop being my story and start being his, to tell or not tell as he wishes? But on the whole, I tell his stories to help other people who might be in the same position, and then say that makes it right. I don’t know if it does or not.

Tomorrow I have a meeting at his school to talk about his class placement for next year. He’s hard to place because he’s smart but his reading’s so slow that it mightn’t look like it. He’s good at math and has a great memory and his vocabulary is wonderful and he’s technically reading at a fourth-grade level. But he needs extra time for reading assignments. It’s a little as if he’s dyslexic, but he’s not dyslexic.

Next week we have an appointment at Children’s Hospital with a feeding specialist, or a dietician, or whatever that person might be called. To talk about the lack of variety in his diet – which is not apparently having any impact on his health or growth, but is starting to affect him socially. He’s worried about what he’ll eat when we’re on vacation this year. This is the first time he’s expressed a concern like that – before, he never seemed to care if he ate or didn’t eat when we were in a different place. Maybe it’s because we’re not going to Ireland, where at least he knows they have toast and bread and packets of peanuts. (We’re going to Italy. Mabel will be happy with pasta and pizza, but not Dash.)

I don’t know what we expect the expert to do. It’s not as if he’s going to uncover some new food group consisting of a range of healthy foods that Dash just happens to love. I don’t even know what I hope he’ll do.

It’s possible, you might be thinking, since I’m bringing these two issues up on the same page, that Dash’s eating issues and Dash’s reading issues are connected. That there’s some umbrella Thing that will draw a line from one to the other, stopping at his other quirks, ones that are maybe just the other side of perfectly ordinary, along the way.

Maybe there is.

I’m calling the insurance company and trying to figure out what they will cover assessments for, if we go outside the school system, which it looks like we should do because when a kid’s neither failing nor disruptive, the school doesn’t feel the need to test them. (You can demand that they test them, but they probably won’t find anything much.) So far it sounds as if insurance only covers assessments for ADD and ADHD, but I think I’m just asking the wrong questions.

Lots of maybes. Lots of questions. Following avenues, asking for stories, listening to my gut. Trying.

Performance anxiety

I made an appointment for Dash to see a food specialist next month. I feel like he’s finally at the point where he wants to eat new foods, but he doesn’t know how. “Just tasting them” is not a runner here. He won’t taste them; if I happen to catch him on that one day of the new moon when the tides are just so and the day has an n in it, and he does taste something new, he’ll most likely not like it. If the stars align so that he says it’s actually okay, he considers that one tiny nibble contains enough nutrients for a lifetime and he’ll never taste it again.

When I called his pediatrician to find out where we should go, she said “So, I understand Dash has some anxiety around eating.”

“Anxiety?” I said. Honestly, you might be rolling your eyes, but I’d never thought about it that way. “No… I wouldn’t call it anxiety, exactly. He’s not worried about it. He just doesn’t do it.”

I suppose we’ll find out more when we see the doctor. Maybe that is what you call anxiety. He’d certainly be very anxious if I forced him to taste new foods against his will, but that would be because to do that I’d have to literally hold him down and force his mouth open. As it is, he says no in no uncertain terms, and that’s just it. There is no moving him. He’s not a child to be persuaded on this front. Never has been.

On the other hand, he does have some anxiety about going on vacation this summer to a country where all the (few) things he habitually eats might not be available. He’s never before mentioned that he’s been upset or even really noticed that he wasn’t eating anything much when we’ve gone to Ireland before. Maybe it’s because Italy is more of an unknown quantity, but I think it’s also because he’s more conscious of it now in a way he wasn’t before. He also doesn’t want to do camp this summer mainly – he says – because he thinks the kids will tease him about having the same thing for lunch every day.

(I don’t think they would. I don’t think he’d be the only kid with the same thing every day, and it’s not as if it’s weird food – it’s a peanut butter sandwich, for goodness sake. And I’m not convinced this is the only thing stopping him from doing camp. But I haven’t yet got to the bottom of that particular mystery.)

I don’t know what might come of it. I can hardly expect to suddenly have a child who eats everything. But if we could somehow succeed in expanding his repertoire just a little, as far as his sister’s, maybe, that would be a huge step. At least she eats pizza and pasta.

Super(non)taster

The good news is that dinners at the table continue to go swimmingly. I’ve been “forgetting” about the star charts for ages now, and everyone still shows up in their seat at 6.00. Thanks to the light in the kitchen going kablooey and needing a call to the electrician to replace, we’re even eating in the dining room, which adds to the formality of the occasion and makes it more of A Thing. Which is nice.

The bad news is that Dash has taken agin his peanut-butter sandwiches somewhat, in the last couple of days.

If you’re new around here, you won’t know about Dash and his food issues. He has Food Issues. He takes picky eater to new heights. Which is really what I want to talk about, but let me preface it by asking you not to send me to Ellyn Satter or It’s not about nutrition or any of those other great resources out there for helping you get your child to eat. Chances are I’ve already seen it. I’m also over and done with blaming myself for starting him out the wrong way by giving him solids too early or too late or too mushy or too whole or too much grains or too much fruit or all the other things you might suspect. It’s not my fault. It’s the way he’s built. (I know this because my second child is a perfectly normal picky eater and I did much the same with her.)

Anyway, with that said, I will skip over all of Before and get us to Now. If you want to read about Before, search for posts tagged “Eating.”

A while ago someone told me about supertasters and I got all excited, because I thought maybe Dash was one, and that that would explain everything. Supertasters basically taste at a higher level than the rest of us, so regular tastes seem far too strong for them. It’s not a medical diagnosis or anything, but I thought it would be nice to have a label for him that would help other people get that we’re not just letting him eat ice cream all day because he doesn’t like his veggies. (We’re not.)

Then I reconsidered, because when he tastes pasta he spits it out and complains that it’s “too plain.” I didn’t see how I could reconcile that with being a supertaster. First things are too strong, then they’re too bland. Was he just being stubborn for the sake of it? Because he really wanted to subsist on nothing but peanut-butter sandwiches for ever?

Then I heard from someone whose son is a grownup supertaster that he said bland foods can also taste terrible, just in a different way. She said he would never eat rice or pasta. BINGO! I thought. I read some more about it today and a lot of things rang bells: not liking carbonated drinks, finding orange juice horribly bitter, running a mile from broccoli and kale… (okay, so he’s not the only child to do that). There was a test you can do with food colouring and a hole punched in a piece of paper. You’re meant to count how many little bumps on the tongue you can see through the hole. If you have 35 or more, you’re a supertaster.

I borrowed a tiny vial of blue food colouring and we were quite excited to do the experiment. I wasn’t quite sure about Dash’s result, so I did it on myself as well. By my count, we both come out as “non-tasters”, he slightly moreso than I. But I couldn’t see how anyone could possibly fit 35 or more papillae in that tiny space. And since I’m pretty confident that I taste quite well, thank you, I wonder if we did it wrong. (B has offered himself as a third guinea pig. I will let you know how that turns out.)

So maybe that theory has been exploded too. It was nice while it lasted. Apart from the general coolness factor of being a super-anything, it would have explained a lot that I find it hard to explain to people otherwise.

I suppose he’s still super-picky, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

That one time he almost tasted some pizza.

That one time he almost tasted some pizza.

Terrible mother seeks redemption: dinner-time edition

Here is my secret shame. Which I can only tell you about now that I’m doing something about it. Because up till now I’ve just been a bad parent, and no matter how much everyone pretends to blog about their terrible parenting, nobody really does.

Increasingly, totally, I’ve been feeding my children their dinner by bringing a plate into them while they watch TV. Dash, we know (bad parenting already acknowledged), has a sandwich on a plate. Mabel might have a bowl of pasta, which she would eat with her fingers although I definitely gave her a fork. There might be some broccoli in there. She might have had an apple or there might not. There might be some chicken, which I would offer and she would reject. It was all very terrible and reeked of atrocious parenting and yet I was powerless to change it. It made my life easier because once they were nominally “fed” I could make something nice for B and me and we could eat it in peace while they continued to watch TV. Mostly, I was lazy and blaming it on the children.

Two nights ago I decided I’d had enough. I was sick of being the waitress in the movie theatre of my home. I called a family meeting, got out my trusty notebook, and wrote a list.

This was basically how it went:

  • Aim: We need to eat dinner together at the table.
  • Difficulties: They don’t want to wait till 6pm. B can’t come home earlier than 6pm. How can I get them to wait longer, and then to turn off the TV and sit with us?

The answer, as usual, was bribery. Sorry, I mean a star chart. They now both have clear motivating factors – an Anna doll (from Frozen, that Anna, of course) for Mabel and more money for Dash, who likes acquiring money and has no immediate plans to spend it on anything.

I put forth my plan, as follows: That we all have dinner at 6pm every night; that we all sit together and eat our food with nice manners. That in return, I will provide food that people like, and also a hearty snack at after-school-time so that they can wait until six for dinner.

Then I got them to help me list food they like for dinner (Mabel, that is) and for snacks, so that I could go shopping. And we agreed on the star system, of course. They can earn a total of three stars per dinner: one for eating at the table, one for using good manners, and one for trying/eating a new food. (Definition of “trying” is at my discretion. Because for Dash sometimes a lick counts; for Mabel I expect a bit more than that.) And I get a star for every dinner-for-four I get on the table, because mums need motivation too.

Once Dash stopped shouting at me because he wanted to have the meeting in what he had decided should be the “meeting room” (aka the front room) and I wanted to stay at the kitchen table, the rest of the discussion went down a treat. They loved being part of the decision-making process, they really did.

Last night too, things went surprisingly well. I’m still making three (mostly) separate dinners, but first things first. Dash sat at the table while we ate cooked food that he could smell (quinoa, kale, chicken) and didn’t complain about it. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s a big deal. Mabel ate her pasta and peas with a fork. They both tried some raw carrot: Dash didn’t like it and Mabel has found a new favourite food. (They have both had carrrot before, I promise.)

I made the table a bit more exciting by letting them both drink their milk out of small, sturdy wine glasses, which they loved. I’m thinking tonight I might put fancy napkins at each place, if only to stop Dash wiping his fingers on his sweater.

So we all got our stars last night. I have decreed that they will earn 5c per star, which doesn’t sound like much but works out to 1.05 at the end of the week, which effectively doubles Dash’s allowance and will get Mabel to her Anna doll a lot sooner than she otherwise would. I have not yet decided what my reward will be, but I’ll be making sure I get one.

Will it work? Will it fall by the wayside like so many others of our star charts? Will I be ferrying food back into the TV room in a week’s time? I suppose it’s up to me, really. I do feel better for having started it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pizza to put together.

Children sitting at the table

Dash dictates exactly how much pizza he might taste.

Cheeses

Actual conversation I just had with Dash, aged 7.75 tomorrow:

Him: Why do you get more popcorn than I do?

Me: Mine has parmesan on it. Cheese is good for you.

Him: I don’t like cheese. And I can say that even more than usual, because I’ve tried cheese.

Me: Really. When did you try cheese?

Him: Twice. One time at the park.

Me: Yes.

Him: And a second time in late 2013.

Me: Oh. That’s very specific.

Him: Yes, it was October or November. And I didn’t like it.

Me: Okay then.

There is nothing more to say.

Dash balances on a bollard

Fully documented non-cheese-eater