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.