Feeding an Orally Defensive Child with Love and Respect

by Melissa on June 24, 2008

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One of API’s Eight Principles is Feeding with Love and Respect which encourages parents to follow through beyond the infant and toddler years and follow their older children’s cues when it comes to eating. As a parent of an orally defensive child, I can say first-hand that taking this approach saved lots of tears and heartache in our house.

My son, almost seven years old, has never liked a variety textures in his mouth and as a result has low oral-motor muscle tone. In other words, his mouth muscles aren’t as strong as other children his age. Combining the muscle weakness with his sensory defensiveness equals very limited food choices. When he was younger, friends and family would tell me I was catering to his wants by making him special food. I was instructed that he would most definitely eat what I had prepared eventually, as he’d get hungry at some point.

What these friends and family didn’t understand is that no, he actually wouldn’t eventually eat what I had prepared when he was hungry. He couldn’t eat some of the foods because of texture, color or consistency. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t, he couldn’t. This was beyond toddler pickiness.

As he got older, the foods he would eat quickly dwindled down to five or six different foods. Mac and cheese was one of these foods, however it was only homemade mac and cheese. When a well-meaning family member made box mac and cheese, he quickly proclaimed that it was orange and he doesn’t eat orange food. This was the “a-hah!” moment for my family, they then knew why I was following my son’s cues for feeding well beyond his toddler years.

Three of the bullet points listed in the Feeding with Love and Respect principle really helped our family get through my son’s extreme pickiness:

  • Model healthy eating habits
  • Avoid the use of food as a reward or punishment, or of making food (or dessert) contingent on behavior
  • Rather than restricting access to certain foods, consider having only healthy options available in the home and allowing the child to choose

Everything in the house was Alexander-friendly. If he was hungry and wanted to eat something, he had carte-blanche access to it. Nothing hinged on whether he ate. We continued to eat healthy meals as a family even if Alexander was eating mac and cheese.

He has now expanded his food repertoire and this past weekend he ate broccoli and a baked potato. He has also recently tried shrimp (previously stinky and slimy) and cauliflower (he didn’t like white foods). Although we took the slow road to an expanded food palate, Alexander was our navigator and we have happily arrived at our destination.


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Melissa (55 Posts)

Melissa has been involved with Attachment Parenting International since 2004. She is the mother of two children and blogs at Raising Them Green.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Scylla June 25, 2008 at 6:45 am

It’s amazing how often people think you can just force your kids into eating right.
I agree that having healthy options available for them to graze whenever they are hungry, and then letting them lead the way is a good way to go.
My daughter started out very picky, and now, at 7, eats almost everything.


Donna June 30, 2008 at 12:19 am

what an amazing post. My daughter at age 5 sounds so similar to your son. I too let her eat healthy foods of her choice. The only fruit’s she will eat are bananas and apples. She loves creamy foods such as plain yogurt and cottage cheese. Thank you for the encouraging post!


melissa June 30, 2008 at 11:44 am

Thank you both for your comments. 🙂


MLigons August 25, 2008 at 8:59 am

My son was born a micropreemie and is currently 15mths old. He is having trouble swallowing many foods but is also not tolerating spoon feedings, an independence issue,I would love any advice you can give to help us.


Priti April 30, 2013 at 2:40 am

Hi, my daughter is 5 years and 4 months and today post doing some research and coming across your post things make sense. I always felt that my child probably doesn’t know how to chew. There are some food she eats quickly and there lots that she has not tried and doesn’t want to. Only likes spicy and sour things and in desert a very s,all healing of chocolate desert. She chews only on one side of her mouth and when I ask her to move the food all over she looks at me clueless and its scary.

She is doing exceptionally well in school and her teachers and friends love her. Eating food is the only area we have been struggling. Since I have just got present to this I’m wondering whether I should a dr?


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