I think the best practice for all of us, whether we have a child with food aversions or not, is to put ourselves in their little (or big) shoes. The Big Picture, always about the Big Picture. Our own anxieties and fears as parents feed directly into our children---how does this play out in a child with feeding complications? You want so badly for them to try a food, to eat a certain amount so they can reach a desired weight for their age, but sometimes ignore the fact that eating in itself is Not Enjoyable for them! Therefore the act of “trying a food” can be a really far-fetched idea in many instances. Not only that but it is often not one, but two or three people surrounding the dinner table coaxing the child to try the food and once again, our own anxieties set in and result in an overall stressful mealtime experience for everyone! There definitely needs to be a shift in the thinking here, and not only in the caregivers but also in many therapists treating children for feeding issues.
Here is a great example—a few years ago we had family in town to celebrate our daughter’s 3rd birthday. We went to a great little seafood place and had some delicious food! My husband was really wishing for Adalyn to try the grilled shrimp but everything on her face said “No!”…thus the coaxing begins, “Just try it, you’ll love it” “Just one bite and then you can__(fill in blank here)” We all know this scenario, right? For a moment I found myself also wanting to appease him as well as the inlaws at the table; however, I knew I didn't expect her start stuffing shrimp into her mouth so I said “Hello? Do you not know anything about what I do for a LIVING, treating very selective eaters? Please don’t worry about her not trying the shrimp” I said we’d just do a seafood or shrimp night one night. Which is exactly what we did! I started talking about it the night before and mentioned it a few more times the next day, took Adalyn with me to the store and started calling out for “Popcorn Shriiiimp, where are you?” We even got some hush puppies since that is always a nice addition to any seafood! We came across some yummy looking breaded butterfly shrimp in the frozen food section and went that route instead of popcorn shrimp. I showed her the tails (on the picture on box) and asked if I could take them off for her, she thought that was the most generous act and thanked me in advance right there in the store “Oh, thank you mommy!”
That night we had a great meal of baked tilapia with butter, lemon, mint from the garden, lots of parmesan cheese, a few new shrimp and some hush puppies! She immediately asked for her ranch—her favorite choice for dipping, especially with new foods, but I asked her if she would try some mango preserves for a sweet dip for our shrimp. She tried it, seemed to enjoy it, but politely declined any additional dips! Only 3 or so bites of the shrimp, but you know what? That’s ok! What a different reaction than the night in the restaurant! She was not prepared for trying shrimp, she shuddered at the thought and there was not much that was too familiar about it to her.
I do realize that different personality types make it easier or harder to come to grips with inconsistencies in life. Especially when dealing with the health and nutrition of our children. I am considered an “Idealist” (according to the Myers-Briggs personality test anyway), and I know my ability to really empathize with another person in combination with some other ‘weird’ qualities help me help others and I have a strange knack with the pickiest of picky eaters! It is a challenge but I do love it—at times I find it harder to relate these mealtime concepts and beliefs to the parents of these children, but I do believe a shift in attitudes toward mealtime is needed. This is why I am content with a "1 bite shrimp night" and the fact that she may have eaten a third of what she did the day before. The grandparents may not agree, your friends may not agree and often the spouse may not agree...there is pressure from all around.
We, as therapists, work with many children whose need for more careful observance of caloric intake are much more important. I am a big believer in finding calorie packed foods that can be added to current accepted foods, I learned this from the beginning of my career and it is a perfect way to continue to allow a child to choose what they will eat and how much they will eat…it just so happens that some of their choices have more calories in them! The outlook I have in many situations is the same, “This too shall pass”, or many small steps toward the bigger picture. And like I said, it’s all about the Bigger Picture.
** I love you dear husband, just using you as a wonderful example!