Take control of mealtimes
The Two Types of Fussy Eating
Fussy, selective, or picky eating comes in many different shapes and sizes. However fussy eating arrives, it is important to understand why it occurs, and stop it before it takes control.
Fussy eating can be broken into two categories:
- Traditional fussy eating
- Food neophobia
They may seem similar, but they represent two very different problems and must be handled correctly to solve the underlying issues.
Traditional (Behavioural) Fussy Eating
Traditional fussy eating is when children tend to like something one minute and then refuse it the next.
Or they may be okay with chicken in burgers but not roasted. We tend to see this as behavioural – however I do not want this to automatically equate to ‘bad parenting’.
This time of fussy eating is developmental, it is almost a rite of passage.
As a parent, you need to understand it and have the appropriate tools and techniques in place to work through the phases in a way that will click with both you and your child.
Food neophobia literally translates to ‘fear of new food’. This can be slightly more complex.
We tend to see it in 80% of children who are neuro-atypical and 20% of the neurotypical population.
Although all children will struggle with some new foods from time to time! However with food neophobia it takes a more precise method of food introduction and ongoing monitoring to help the child overcome their fears.
I work through both types of fussy eating through a combination of tools and techniques best suited to your family.
Read below to see the journey of Laura and Paul with their son Benson, who had an extreme case of fussy eating, affecting his development. I highlight some of the tools and techniques we used, and the successful outcome we reached.
Laura & Paul's Story
Laura and Paul came to me, worried about their 3 year old son Benson.
Benson was refusing all food except for bread with honey, potato fries, noodles, and chicken nuggets. Not exactly a balanced diet!
At 3 years old he was presenting with an iron deficiency and his speech and language were delayed. Physically he was on the 15th centile for weight.
Whilst this was technically fine, long term growth trends showed his height steadily dropping percentiles from the 75th at birth to the 10th at age 3.
Laura was concerned for her son’s development.
He would become disruptive at mealtimes, throwing his plate, fidgeting, and having tantrums.
Laura, who was with Benson all day found his behaviour around food stressful, she never knew what would set him off and felt like she was tiptoeing around his needs.
She was very tired of butting heads with him and would cook the same meals for him just to give herself a bit of a break from his outbursts.
A year ago Laura had re-entered the workplace, part time, in a fast paced corporate sector. Currently pregnant with their second child, Laura was keen to get a handle of Benson’s eating before the new baby arrived and their lives became even more hectic.
Paul had a stressful job in emergency healthcare. He was responsible for a large team, and was used to managing complex medical situations.
He expressed how tough it was making the effort to leave work on time so that he was home for the family meal.
He dreaded the arguments and would rather use the excuse that he was working late. After such a hectic day with so much going on, the last thing he wanted when he got home was more noise and chaos.
After the first consultation, I established that Benson had a leaning towards soft white foods. He did not want anything too crunchy/hard, too fluid based, too hot, or too cold.
It was probable that Benson had a sensory processing disorder.
He found the process of eating, and the sensations associated with it, very overwhelming.
Together, his parents and I worked on some techniques to help Benson feel safe increasing the variety of foods he ate.
Some of these techniques included;
- Calming tools - such as using a weighted blanket
- Adaptations to the environment - turning the TV off and having trigger sounds and smells prior to eating
- Meal time coping strategies - using a fidget spinner, creating a routine
- A gentle approach to increasing variety - keeping texture consistent whilst widening the type of food served for example
- A staged approach to eating - working with becoming comfortable with the other senses first
By the end of a couple of months Benson had increased his menu to include rice, boiled potato, some fruits and vegetables lightly steamed – including apples which due to their crunchiness had been previously a no go!
I also encouraged Laura and Paul to contact their GP for a referral through to speech and language therapists.
Together with using his jaw and tongue to try new foods, and working on some exercises with speech and language, Benson was able to progress his speech to a more appropriate level for his age.
*Please note names have been changed to protect the privacy of my clients
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