Towing a Harder Line with My Kids

January 26, 2012 in Categories: , by

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If you read my post on Why I Cater to My Kids, then you have an idea of the events that lead to me being a short-order cook.  But, my husband and I have (finally) reached a level of frustration with our oldest daughter that means we’re (finally) ready to make some changes.  Our daughter dislikes food, so until recently, we have been happy to have her eat anything.  We were optimistic that she would grow out of this super picky phase.  But now, she is 5 years old!  And as we approach kindergarten late this summer, we are becoming more and more concerned about her generally low energy levels.  This also comes at a time when my youngest daughter, who recently turned 2, is starting to be more willful at meals.  But my youngest is a kid who will eat what’s put in front of her if there are no other options presented.  I don’t want to cater to my oldest while being hardnosed with my youngest; that truly is not fair.  So, we are trying something new.  We are trying to radically change my oldest daughter’s diet all at once (small changes just didn’t seem to be working).  Let’s be clear:  this isn’t really about getting my oldest daughter to eat paleo (or even gluten-free, which is my first goal for my kids); this is about getting her to just eat. 

We think that she probably had severe acid reflux as a baby (which pediatricians seemed unconcerned about at the time) and an immature digestive system leading to frequent stomach aches, which combined to form a very negative association with food for her.  She hates food, hates eating, would literally rather starve.  She especially dislikes meat of any kind (and fish, eggs…) and all vegetables (and most fruit too).  We’ve tested her blood and she is not chronically malnourished (as I suspected), but she does have borderline hypoglycemia (probably caused by simply not eating well or enough rather than an endocrinological disorder).  She is a conundrum:  I tried withholding cheese so that she would eat carrot sticks and apple slices fist.  Once she finished half an apple and two carrot sticks, she was too full for the cheese.  This morning she turned down bacon because it wasn’t cooked the way she liked it.  I had to yell at her to get her to eat the scrambled eggs on her plate.  We could try an appetite stimulant with her, but as a person who battled weight most of my life, I feel deeply uneasy about this.

We’ve had a lot of conversations lately with my oldest daughter about nutrition, good foods and bad foods, about eating protein sources, about eating vegetables, about balance, about trying new foods, about how food is important for her body, and about how food affects her energy and her immune system.  She’s a very bright kid (two scientists for parents will do that to you) and she’s interested in the science of nutrition, just not the application.  But we wanted to prepare her somewhat for the changes that we’re implementing.

So, here is our new plan.  For breakfast, I am making her scrambled eggs, uncured bacon (obviously trying to cook it the way she likes it, sheesh) and fresh fruit.  Yoghurt, cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, paleo muffins and other paleo baking will form her snacks.  For lunch and supper, I am making her a few different vegetables and cheese and/or meat (same as what we’re eating).  That’s it.  I’ll try to make sure that some of the things on her plate are things she likes, but I’m not going to offer anything else.  I will try not to worry about quantity (tough because she eats so little and it irks me), but just try and improve quality (for now).  I’m not going to negotiate how many bites of what she has to eat before she gets something yummy (although fruit, gluten-free cereal or paleo baking will be offered for dessert if she finishes her whole plate).  We’ll see what happens… So far, there has been great drama (screams, tears, wails, flopping on the floor, pouting in her room, more crying, whining, more tears).  I feel bad for my oldest daughter because having this kind of radical change force upon you is brutal.  But I can already see an improvement in her energy level and disposition.  I hope that as she starts to feel better, that feeling better will also mean that eating healthy food won’t seem like such a chore.

Updates: see this post about improvements with my older daughter’s eating, and also this post to listen to an interview with her titled “I Like Meat Now”.

Comments

Stick with it and be as kind as you can. She will come around. My oldest would vomit anything he thought he didn’t like. He now can eat something even if he knows he doesn’t like it. It took time, and he is still picky (but so was I as a kid). I tell him to stop looking at his food, and just eat it. He is 13 now. This did not happen overnight. The best approach was being firm but kind.

Have you considered the texture of the food may be bothering her? Sometimes that is the only issue, and if you can blend or hide things in her food she may eat them without a problem.

My kids won’t touch a chunky veggie soup, but will gobble down the same soup blended up. A lot of kids have texture issues. I still cannot eat dried fruit (unless blended up) because the texture bugs me. I think it tastes good, it just bothers me. Just a thought for you.

Thank you! We are noticing a tremendous difference already (she also has SPD, which both makes this harder and makes this more urgent).

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place where other people struggling with their own family’s nutrition could come for ideas and a sense of community. For many (most?) of us, change is not easy, even when it is positive change.

I’m going to implement this. I still make him what he wants and my husband and I eat our meal. Usually it’s chicken, salmon or turkey w/ broccoli or string beans. it’s very frustrating. And sometimes I feel like I’m being too hard on him. To the standard American this is a very healthy meal. I came here this morning b/c, once again, i’m frustrated.
It’s been a little over amonth now for his transition into paleo. I know it will get better in time and it will all be worth it. I just need to prepare myself for my tantrums. He’ll eat brocoli but won’t really eat any other veggies and meat is difficult too. I’ll keep you posted on this progress. He’s 5 also.
I’m going to make some of your paleo muffins w/ hidden veggies since mine turned out disaster (lol) and send those to school w/ him for his snacks.

Thank you for such an inspirational post. What a great birthday present and you dont even know me! After reading your story and now this one.. We are having quite similar mom and daughter health issues. I have been tested and I am totally grain intolerant including dairy, corn and rice. Eating grass fed beef, wild game, veggies and fruits. This is the first year now of our journey, things like this really help ALOT! Thanks again, Tamara

I worked for several years in the area of childhood obesity and one of our philosophies was based on Ellyn Saters work on the feeding relationship. The feeding relationship is a philosophy centered around the parents roles and the child’s roles in eating to help to develop a non-combative feeding relationship and hence a good relationship with food. The parents role centers around the what,where and when of feeding and the childs role is if and how much. She writes a few excellent books, I would recommend Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming. With a very strict philosophy on food yourself, one in which I believe in, yet different than your childs outside world, it is important to have the right approach around the education and guidance of this eating philosophy. I grew up in a Scandinavian family that immigrated to a small town in Canada. We were a very active family, much different than those around us but very much a typical Norwegian family.Each weekend we went skiing or sailing, biking or running or to our cottage to play. It was our way of life and one I valued because I did not see it as being forced to do it, my family made it so much fun what else would I want to do. When I got married and my husband (an extremely active man) and I had kids one weekend when they were around 8 and 6 my husband asked them if they wanted to go skiing. I said to him oh no don’t ask them, we just pack up and go because that is what our family does. We always made an effort to make every activity outing fun and geared towards the level of the kids, while working in our own activity needs. We were role modelling and guiding and educating all in one. We didn’t ask, we just did because if you asked they wanted to play Nintendo and sit on the couch like many of their other friends did. Our kids are 21 and 18 and healthy, intuitive eating and activity are just a part of their lives. My husband often tells that story to others as what he says was a real mind changer for him and how well it worked!!
I am enjoying your website very much. Great to hear from someone with such a strong science background!! Good luck with the book!
Tina

I have to agree. I had TWO very picky eaters and I tell you what- it got to where I had to take a Xanax around dinner time it was so stressful. The yelling was insane. I’d fix food and then hide because I just couldn’t stand it. I vowed that with my third that I was going to fix a good tasty meal and then let her eat what she wants from it. No screaming. Nada. I just can’t take it anymore. There’s no point. When she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat it. When everyone else is done with the meal then I’m picking her plate up to and wrapping it up to go with her next meal plus a bit from the freshly cooked meal. That’s what I’m fixing for dinner, take it or leave it. As you can tell, I’m less inclined to ASK a kid what they’d prefer now. The boys are teenagers as I write this and now they fix food however they like it. Guess what? It’s EXACTLY how I used to make it! ROFL! Both tell me frequently that I’d better give them a copy of all my recipes when they move out.

This is a real struggle for me too. I have four kids who all have very different likes and dislikes. One child hates eggs. Son likes just a few kinds of fruits and veggies – and the ones he likes are all different than what the girls like. Two like juicy bacon and two like crispy bacon. Son wants roast beef lunch meat and the girls like turkey. I am going to pack them all their school lunches this year and I am planning on sitting down with them and brainstorming. I am thinking that I may get the crock pot out and make things like chili and stews overnight. Beef stew is something they all like. I also made a sausage and pumpkin soup everyone liked. The biggest struggle is that I will spend a bunch of money on food and the kids will say,”there is nothing to eat in the house anymore.” The reality is that there is a ton to eat, but just not poptarts and other junk. But, my kids are athletes and they eat a lot. I’ll say a prayer that your sweet girl comes around. You definitely don’t want your little girl to have such a dramatic relationship with food as she grows up….I’ll pray for mom too. :)

Thank you for this post…
i have been struggling to stay paleo with my kids just not warming to it atm all. My kids 4 and 5 both show signs of being on the autism spectrum and are in the process of getting a diagnosis.I have been looking for advice on something other then the gradual introduction.

thank you again

I’ve never heard of anyone else who’s child does this but my youngest daughter doesn’t like food and will starve herself rather than eat food she doesn’t want. Thanks for the inspiration to keep going at it with her.

I have the same problem middle son had very bad gastric reflux, then very picky with foods. We were happy to give him anything. Didn’t like sweets or meat or veggies, just peanut butter and crackers that was it!! Our fourth son a baby at the time was feeding in to this also and he became picky as he got a little older. They are now 10 and eight and granted they have increased their menu it is still not good. No veggies, but will eat meat and processed foods (yuck!). Now they like sweets too much and I am afraid I have created a monster. I am looking at this menu change and it helps knowing other parents are dealing with the same things. Our oldest two are much more varied in their eating. Wish me luck!

I know that you’ve been focusing more on egg-free recipes, to meet your own family’s needs, but do you have any recommendations for other egg-rich paleo baking recipes like your French toast flat bread?

Here’s my situation: I’m married to a militant vegetarian, and I’ve hardly cooked meat at home in years, although I do sometimes order it in restaurants. Our 11 year-old daughter is thrilled by the sudden influx of meat into our home, and has said that she will happily give up gluten as long as she gets gluten-free mac n cheese once a week.

But our 7 year old son, who used to eat meat when he was younger, decided several months ago that he is a vegetarian just like dad. He is a fiend for tofu, and he’s been relying on that heavily for protein. He likes some kinds of cheese, and (sweetened) yogurt, but is totally opposed to eggs. But he will eat eggs hidden in things. Guess we’ll also need to see how he feels about nut butters other than peanut….

Eggs are not included on the AIP (auto immune protocol). Sarah has been able to successfully introduce them recently. The rest of her family also eats eggs. The website has a combination of AIP recipes (no eggs) and traditional Paleo recipes (eggs are okay). Several of Sarah’s bread recipes include egg: http://www.thepaleomom.com/category/recipes/paleo-baked-goods/paleo-bread-recipes Perfect Paleo Pancakes could be a good option as well: http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/09/perfect-paleo-pancakes.html You can browse all recipes here: http://www.thepaleomom.com/recipes —Tamar, Sarah’s assistant

Being the “food police” can be really counterproductive… so I congratulate you on moving past it!
Another consideration: Have you looked into a possible zinc deficiency? Zinc is required for proper production of the salivary enzyme (anhydrase) which affect taste buds. Picky eaters can often be deficient.

Have you gotten her tested for any developmental or sensory disorders like autism? I don’t know her but my daughter has Aspergers and hates to eat because she hates the textures of most foods. She hates all of the foods you mention but loves cheese. Each night we go through the same battle. She might just have sensory issues.

Stick to it! She will eat. As someone who’s taught parenting classes, I strongly recommend consistency and follow through (sorely lacking in today’s world). I never had a choice as a child in main family meals, and neither do my children today 7 and 11. You eat what you are served. Dessert for those who were able to first fill up on a nutritional meal. If you don’t eat, warmed up for the next meal:). As a parent you’re there to raise your children Well, not be their best friend and short order cook. They will grow up and tell great stories, but at the core will be respect.

I’ve been told that if children are hypoglycemic, they will start to tantrum if they go too long. Their brain is sugar-crashing. Give them juice or a bit of whatever they are craving (sugar) then you have 10 min to give them more nourishment. Mornings can also be difficult because it has been so long since they’ve last eaten. You didn’t describe this behavior, but I found it eye-opening and helpful with my daughter.

You are absolutely describing my daughter!!
She’s 6 1/2 and just doesn’t like to eat. She also had acid reflux as a baby (and celiac and several other intolerances). She also doesn’t care much for meat or veggies, preferring mainly dairy and certain fruits. Food is just uninteresting to her- she is healthy but skinny. Anyway- we implemented a bead (marble) jar for behavior as well as eating- it’s a jar on the counter that she can see at all times. When she does what is expected of her, she gets beads. If she does something that deserves a punishment, she loses beads (with timeout reserved for more serious offenses). When the jar is full, she gets a treat of her choice (a new book, a special activity like painting fingernails or letting her play with makeup, a movie, etc.).

If she eats a meal of at least 1 bite of each item, and until she’s full without being nagged or asked/reminded to eat more than 1 time, she gets a bead (there’s a bit of judgment here, but I try to judge if what she’s eaten is a reasonable amount of food- I also have a minimum 1 bite per year of age as a fallback option if it starts getting out of hand). She also is required to eat at least one bite of everything. This has helped stop the fighting, yelling, time outs, crying, kicking tantrums. We eat Breakfast and Dinner each day at the table together, all the same exact menu, and now it’s fairly uneventful. She’s actually gained some weight this year for the first time in several years, and is now in about the 40th percentile, up from the 15-20th or so. She’s also gained a lot of height. She’s also learned some new favorite foods- Sardines and Brussels sprouts are her favorites of all things!
Now, we have days where she still throws the fit or won’t eat no matter what (this type of tantrum behavior loses a bead), but this has helped a lot and I think it’s a good tool that has brought us a lot of peace around food, and it’s made her feel a bit more in control of her choices I think.

I thought my 4.5 year old daughter was the only one like this!! No one in our extended family or doctors understand that she is beyond just a “picky” eater. Thanks for this and it is encouraging me to try some of this with my daughter. She recently started eating a plain hamburger and I was so thrilled. prior to that, the only meat she would eat was one type of chicken nugget and bacon. but she also does the bite negotiation with me…By the way, she also had “silent” reflux as a baby and was actually on prevacid until 8 months. She starts freaking out if you even ask her to try something new. She seems scared of new foods. Of course, she loves bread and other starches..but I think all kids gravitate towards those…

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have worked with many children described as “picky eaters.”. The relationship children develop with food is emotional and when food is perceived as scary, no amount of yelling or begging will help. Extremely picky eaters and their families can benefit from the services of a feeding specialist be it an OT, SLP or counselor. Entering into a power struggle can force some kids to dig their heals in which makes life even more of a struggle. I also recommend Ellyn Satter’s work as well as “Just Take a Bite” by Lori Ernsperger & Tania Stegen-Hanson.

An approach I have found very useful with intelligent children who like the science / theory behind things is to let them be in charge for a while. When my daughter started to get fussy with food at about 4yrs & I was to the point of tearing my hair out I finally said “fine. From now on YOU are the mum and can choose what we eat for all meals. I’ll cook it, but YOU choose all of our food”.
She thought it was a joke but quickly learned that I meant business. She had to choose the breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for the entire family. And I stuck to that for a few weeks – and the result was a life changer. The first few days was the predictable “tiny teddies” for snacks, ice cream, grapes, sugary cereals, tinned spaghetti for lunches and only her favourite dinners. (First night was maccas of course.. She’s obviously not on a paleo diet… I am the one with the health issues, so all my dietary requirements I must do alone..). So after a few days of this hubby & I started the acting. (Not OVERacting, as to make her think we were putting it on – she’s quite intelligent). When she’d ask us to do something, we’d gently say to her “I’m SO sorry my darling, I really want to, but I just can’t. I’m a little bit sick now. My body just doesn’t have enough healthy nutrients any more.” And leave it at that. We didn’t get into discussions about it- just planted the seed. The first night we said that, she have me a list of veggies to include in our dinner. Then after a few more days of this continued acting, each time explaining “I’m SO sorry my darling, I’m just a little bit too sick. I don’t have the energy for the park today. I don’t have enough vitamin xxx that I’d normally get from my xxxx” or and she started to realise that it’s not just about veggies, it’s about other sources as well. Each time not going into conversations, just planting seeds. Eventually she was dictating to is healthy balanced meals which she would gladly eat (because SHE was the one who chose them). And as the meals became healthier & more balanced, we could do things for her more & more, because we’d “had enough healthy nutrients to go to the beach today!” etc.
By being responsible at such a young age for the health of everyone else gave her the jolt she needed for a total shift in her attitudes towards food.
She STILL always asks for ice cream for dessert, and STILL wants her tiny teddies at snacks, but she also LOVES her sandwiches because the bread has a whole “12 grains! That’s the most grains in the entire shop! It’s like, you’re getting all these extra nutrients for free!!!” (Her cute words!) and she LOVES munching down on cucumbers and carrots as snacks after school. (Her choice!)
I’m not saying it’ll work for everyone, and letting your child dictate your every meal for weeks on end can feel risky, but if it works – if your little one actually comprehends the repercussions of food choices on the health of her/his loved ones (and the fact that the loved ones can’t do as much for her/him if they’re not fit & healthy..) then it can be a complete game changer!

Thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling with this as well with my daughter. Although she enjoys food, it’s been hard to implement eating paleo when both sets of grandparents aren’t on the same page.

My son is 23 and still struggles with food. He has since he was 3 yrs. old. Textures are part of it. He doesn’t WANT to dislike so many foods and knows it is socially debilitating. He went to an eating disorders clinic. There is a diagnosis called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).
ARFID was introduced as a new diagnostic category in the recently published DSM-V. The ARFID diagnosis describes individuals whose symptoms do not match the criteria for traditional eating disorder diagnoses, but who, nonetheless, experience clinically significant struggles with eating and food. Symptoms of ARFID typically show up in infancy or childhood, but they may also present or persist into adulthood.

I have been through this too. We worked with a feeding therapist and changed to the Specific Carbohydrate diet. These helped some, but the biggest change came from supplementing zinc. It had a major effect on his appetite. Also switching to grain free had a major impact on his cognitive function and speech.

Followup to my previous email about my 23 yr old son’s limited diet: I eat a gluten-free diet (because of a diagnosed gluten sensitivity,) no red meat but fish and some chicken, lots of fruit & veggies (grew up meat and potatoes). Early on before it was for philosophical reasons my son rejected meat. He did choke on a piece of chicken as a toddler which may have been a triggering event. To this day he cannot swallow pills and he has tried! He has always preferred crunchy foods to anything soft or juicy. He eats dry cereals, some raw fruits and veggies, al dente pasta with no sauce, white pizza, bread, crackers and some cheeses. No eggs, peanut butter, beans, potatoes etc. and he doesn’t like most sweets like ice cream, cakes or candies, although he may take a bite occasionally. I have always been concerned about his protein intake but year after year at his physical, the pediatrician would say he was healthy and growing fine and to not get into a power struggle over food. All through elementary, Jr and Sr high school he took a packed lunch – cheese, bread, raw bell peppers, carrots and/or celery and an apple. It seems to be a combination of a physical/psychological problem and I would like to tell you it gets better, but since he’s 23 now…I’m not sure when that will happen. I thought peer pressure would do it, but it didn’t – (seriously how many kids bring their own lunch in high school?!) He recently graduated from college. He lived on salad, fruit, pasta, pizza, dry cereal, and cheese sandwiches from the dining hall for 4 years. He is going to have to find a very understanding girlfriend some day because it isn’t likely they will be eating out in a restaurant for a date!

I can feel your pain. My eldest just decided to stop eating all sorts of foods while I was busy with my twins. He was about 2ish and they about 6 months. It was a battle that I didn’t bother with for a long time as I did it on my own while my husband worked. He just wouldn’t try anything and wouldn’t eat. If you let him go hungry he would wake up at 4.30am hungry. He lived on Jam sandwiches, ham, cheese, cherry tomatoes and strawberries. It wasn’t until last year when he turned 6 that we really dug our heels in. It started with Sunday night family roast that my husband cooks. It took a couple of weeks but he slowly came around. He just keeps improving. Now he watches cooking shows on TV and his new favourite food is duck breast and kale chips.

It was so nice to read this!! My daughter is almost 5 and often mentions that she wishes she didn’t have to eat food ever. One time, out of frustration over eating, she said she wouldn’t eat until her birthday (2 months away). She did have reflux as an infant and rarely consumed more than 2 oz per feeding. When she went gluten free a year ago, it truly seemed like a type of drug withdrawal. She has had hypoglycemic episodes, as well. Not surprising, since her favorite foods are covered in maple syrup. She claims to hate meat, won’t eat most veggies, and will only eat certain fruit. She is a work in progress. Thanks for theeencouragement, as any dietary change is like the end of the world.

This is going to sound barbaric to some people, but I stand by it…my daughter was an especially fussy eater right from the get-go. I forced her to heat, if she spit out the food, it went right back in. I would hold her mouth closed, too. I won’t say she’s a great eater now, but she eats a lot better and has become a woman who is interested in trying new foods and recipes. Nutrition is non-negotiable. People have to eat or their health is ruined and being the parent, my law is final. All of my children are adults and healthy and well-adjusted….mostly ;) .

I agree with you about it being our job, literally, to make sure our kids have good nutrition. If we didn’t give a crap then we’d take the easy way out and say, “Sure, go ahead and have all that junk food.” Then privately think to ourselves that we just did it to stop the tantrum that day and the future tantrums tomorrow. I know WAY too many parents who do that. Their kids are HORRIBLE emotional little @#$%heads. Parents have to to stick to their guns about nutrition and teaching what is good food and what is worthless junk.

I have known some kids who were ridiculous enough to go the route of starving themselves rather than eat good food for a few days and then when they finally got hungry enough to eat they’d get themselves so worked up emotionally afterward that they’d make themselves throw up. (To prove a ‘point’ to mommy and daddy??!) There was nothing wrong with them psychologically or physically. They were just brats. When people in their lives put their foot down about such behavior then after a few weeks this petulant attitude left and they grudgingly ate what was put in front of them. After a few months they grew out of this hating food phase. Again– there was NOTHING WRONG WITH THEM physically or psychologically. They just wanted to eat crap and when they weren’t allowed to they threw horrifying temper tantrums which went to the extreme.

I was firm with my two boys through the age of ten or so about not being allowed to say you don’t like something until you have it three times(meals). The end result is that they are adventurous eaters and are wonderful cooks now at the age of 13 and 14. Granted, their spice choices are a little weird and heavy-handed but… that’s a skill you grow into, right?! lol. The tastebuds have to experience it first in order to understand how to make changes to the recipe next time. I especially enjoy giving them clear parameters on their cooking assignments(based on what’s available and food planning for the week so they don’t take something from another future meal). They wiggle all inside the guidelines I give them for that meal and have made some pretty interesting stuff.

Food wars are never fun but what I’ve learned about years of struggle is this:

1) No amount of yelling will help.
2) Believe it or not, kids can and will get so sleepy that they’ll fall asleep at the table instead of eat what they’re told to. … however, when you keep waking them up and remind them to eat or they won’t get their bed they WILL eventually eat. It’s obnoxious to have to do this(and tiring on my part) but it sends a clear message. (Standing them up at the table helps, too. Take the chair away.) You don’t get what you want until Mommy gets what she wants and Mommy is only trying to do her job. Period. We’re honestly not trying to be mean. We’re trying to make sure we have healthy kids!!
3) Tastebuds change over the years. One kid hated green apples with a passion two years ago will now only eat the green variety and shuns the other colors. Go figure. Now we buy the variety packs of apples.
4) If you stay perfectly calm, spell out the options/lack of options you have decided upon and then walk away or stay only within view so you can monitor that actual consuming of the food then you’ll decrease the child’s ability to drive you crazy. If they cry then hand them tissues. Then walk away again. Don’t even talk to them. You already gave them their assignment. To make you happy and to get away from their eating area they know what they have to do. They gotta suck it up that this is what they have to do to keep themselves healthy. It’s our job to make sure they get those vitamins in them. I consider it neglect if we do not. Why would we want an unhealthy child if it is within our power to prevent it?

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