Saturday, July 21, 2012

When Hungry Kids Don't Eat

Hungry kids eat.  This is the premise of most articles on picky eating.  It's the premise that any good pediatrician works with when they discuss picky eating, and it's the one that nutritionists start with when they begin working with a new patient on how to create better eating habits in their children.
While this is an excellent premise, it isn't always true.  Oh, normal kids will eat if they get hungry enough.  But there are a few stubborn children who don't.
My oldest was the former.  She seemed picky at times.  There was the ball phase...where she would only eat food that was ball shaped.  Since this included grapes, peas and a full blown temper tantrum in the produce department over a bag of brussel sprouts (which she won; they were brussel sprouts after all) her pediatrician was more amused than concerned.  But the phases passed, and over the course of a month at any given time, her diet was relatively balanced.
Enter the youngest member of the family.  From the start, she had a cagey relationship with food.  She'd hungrily latch on and midway through a meal, arch her back and start screaming.  It took a few months and a bit of a rash to discover that she was allergic to the almonds and nut products in my diet.  As a toddler, she seemed to eat a varied diet.  Of course, it was limited in that we avoided anything with nuts.  But she ate squash, tofu, apples and cheese with relish.  She even tasted the lemon in a box of sushi we once purchased.  Somewhere along the way, she started getting pickier though.  Food couldn't touch any other food on the plate.  If a cookie or breadstick broke in two, she'd collapse into inconsolible tears.  'She's tired', we told ourselves.  Even if she'd slept well.
Then there came a variety of diagnosis for the rest of us.  Our family diet became more limited, and it seemed logical that she would balk.  We've been juggling this attitude for years now.  I don't want to be a short order cook.  But she needs calories.
Some nutritionists suggest using pediatric 'milk shakes' similar to ensure.  Unfortunately, I've taught the child to read and some logic skills.  She won't touch a chocolate shake for breakfast, and the ingredient list just makes her think I'm trying to hurt her.  They suggest occasional trips out, fast food is affordable and it's high in calories.  But it's never been in our diet so she gives me a squinty eyed suspicious look.  Besides, her sister can't eat most fast food.  Why would I treat bumblebee to a dinner out when she's been incorrigible?  Right.  I wouldn't.  Scratch that idea.  What about soda with her meals?  She won't touch it with a ten foot pole.
After talking to a nutritionist and doctor, I find myself wondering if by serving veggies and water when the kids were little I somehow set up a junk food deficiency.  Wouldn't that be a good thing?  I suppose that depends on if the kids eat.
What happens when I decide I can be as stubborn as she is?  Recently I stopped worrying too much about what she ate.  She was pulling these tantrums over food, where she'd sit at the table with a plate of food in front of her and crying because she was hungry.  I took my cue from her newest therapist and shrugged.  There was food, tasty food.  There was food available.  I saw some of it enter her mouth.  If she was going to cry about it, I wasn't going to stay in the same room. 
She lost 10 pounds.  And then was hospitalized. 
Hungry kids don't always eat.  At least, not enough to keep themselves going and healthy, even if you make sure the foods they need are readily available. 
Several thousand dollars later, we're no closer to an answer to picky eating.  Our recommendation is to feed her anything at all she's willing to eat, even if I have to go out at 2am.  But, don't become a short order cook.  Make one meal and if she eats, great.  Hungry kids, after all, eventually eat. 
Please tell me I'm not the only one who thinks that's conflicting information?


maubs said...

It can be helpful to understand from your kid's point of view that some foods, to a picky eater, aren't food at all. To me, eating a bowl of lettuce is just like eating a bowl of paper. I could choke both down, if I had to, but there's no pleasure in it. In my mind, mushrooms, green beans and some other vegetables are so unpalatable that I was that kid sitting at the dinner table, hours later, just staring at that plate. I still won't eat them.
Sometimes the only thing that forced me to try new things was social pressure. I'd be out at a friend's house for dinner, or in public, and try something to be polite. I had decided that I wasn't going to let my picky eating keep me away from social situations. I still struggle with it. Add to that a corn allergy and my diet became further limited.
Just as you might view Doritos as better used as packing material, once you have a corn allergy, the picky eater will continue to view some foods. Don't try to feed me a mushroom. Not gonna happen!

Violets said...

I really want to respect her choices, but I still can't get any reasoning out of her. Some days crackers are all she craves. Others, she sobs that I don't love her if I suggest them.
I also am of the mind that picky eating often denotes a food intolerance, and she's the one who outgrew a nut allergy. But...she still needs calories and nutrition.

Noe said... is conflicting information... it's puzzling information. Does she ever ask for food? I know that asking her if she's hungry can produce various reactions, but if she's asking that could be a good sign. When animals don't eat we trick them. We rely on things that smell very, very good. Baby food is a big one with dogs and cats. Something that smells SO good that no matter how ill they feel or how "not hungry" they are they manage to choke some down. Would a batch of cookies she likes but you don't have a "safe" recipe for help?? Cause I can whip one up for her and deliver it-or she can come pick it up and see how big the kittens have gotten!

Violets said...

She complains that she's hungry, but often can't tell us what for. We were considering that a 'control' issue, but I think it's more anxiety related (She doesn't want to hear us say no, or she doesn't want to have to think up a food.) If we offer the 'wrong' thing she hides and cries for an exceptionally long time or throws a fit. Oddly, sweets are a huge turn off to her right now.
We ended up buying a bunch of frozen meals, and while she doesn't enjoy them, she feels they're palatable and is eating them. And, joy of joys, she's started asking for some of what the rest of us are if having that frozen pizza or lasagna makes it safe to try 'weird' food like homemade chicken noodle soup.