When my son was four months old, he started eating purees. Boy, we’re off to a good start, we thought. From his first sour-faced applesauce encounter, he went on to try many different kinds of purees, from blueberry-banana to kale and broccoli. When Ethan was 15 months old, he decided to stop eating. We had switched him to cow’s milk at age one, and now he wouldn’t take in anything but cow’s milk. This continued on until he started eating solids again, only two flavors from Gerber third foods, apple banana and apple cinnamon. Then he began completely rejecting even that, now only eating a chinese sausage, rice and egg concoction that I had created because I knew he loved the sausage. I felt completely guilty about feeding him this for several months, but it was the only thing he would eat! We added Pediasure, a protein shake for children, to make sure he wasn’t missing out on his nutrients.
Getting back to eating
Slowly, but surely, his food repertoire started widening again. He ate real baked cinnamon apples, shredded chicken nuggets with shredded mini pancakes, chicken and occasionally, beef. This may not seem like a lot, but for a toddler who ate only one or two things, this was plenty. Despite eating more foods, he would gag from time to time, and throw up occasionally. His occupational therapist at his early intervention program suggested a swallow study, and we discovered something that should’ve been obvious from day one – my son was not chewing. He was mashing his food in his mouth and swallowing the food whole. This was why at age 2.5, he had still never eaten a cracker and refuses to eat anything but soft, mashable, shredded food.
To say mealtime is a struggle is definitely right, with me throwing up my hands in frustration sometimes. I would cook big batches of food, all excited and certain my son would like it, only for him to reject the second spoonful. I had to learn that for my son, it simply wasn’t a matter of putting food in his mouth and chewing it. It was dependent on motor skills and sensory experiences. My son was also diagnosed with hypotonia at 1 year 7 months, which made him more susceptible to feeding disorders. Ethan also rejects all types of sippy cups and still prefers to drink from his bottle. It might take some time before he transitions from the bottle. He started feeding therapy 2x a week three weeks ago. We were waitlisted at his primary pediatric therapy clinic for almost 5 months, and had to transfer to another provider because we could not get a time slot. I also attended a lecture on mealtime struggles at my son’s school.
Things I’ve learned!
Ethan is making a lot of progress so far, and I am learning a lot! Things I’ve learned:
- There is a time to push and a time to back off. Each bite shouldn’t be a cause for battle.
- To widen your child’s food repertoire, start with familiar foods and foods that are similar but different. You might give your child foods that are the same color as the ones he likes, same texture or similar taste. For example, my child likes rice with meat, so I could add peas and carrots to the mix, perhaps change up the protein.
- Feeding therapy takes time, and your child will not see gains immediately but over time.
- I was giving my son 40 ounces of milk a day, to which the doctor said to cut it down to 20 oz a day so he would have more interest on food. Although I still occasionally give in to my son’s cries for milk, I have limited to 30 ounces at best, and he has been taking a keener interest in food.
- Don’t ever stop trying and experimenting. There were many times that I was so discouraged that I would just give him milk, but I kept on trying to give him different kinds of food. I’ve found that just scanning the grocery store gave me plenty of ideas. I will not pretend to be an organic food and health freak, because I am not, and my primary concern is for my child to increase his food intake, widen his food variety, and be willing to break routine.
- The speaker at my son’s school recommended Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating: A Step-by-Step Guide for Overcoming Selective Eating, Food Aversion, and Feeding Disorders by Katja Rowell MD. I am still going through the book, and will post cliff notes when I can.
- I’ve started to use the Nuk brush as recommended by my son’s feeding therapist to gently massage my son’s molars and encourage him to chew. His feeding therapist would dip the brush in liquid or puree and gently put it on my son’s lips and put the Nuk brush on. She would also tell him to bite down and say “chew, chew, chew.”
- Disclaimer: Of course, none of this is official medical or therapist advice but is only based on what I’ve learned. Consult a doctor or occupational therapist for feeding concerns.