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How to Keep a Problem Feeder Healthy

The picture above is what I put into a smoothie for my son. This is the smoothie he eats three nights a week for dinner, because he won’t eat the dinner I make. Several times I’ve mentioned I have a diagnosed “problem feeder.” I’ve talked to several other moms in the same situation so I wanted to write a post specifically for anyone who struggles to feed their kids. My guess is, that includes all of us to some extent. First I want to give you a little back story on my amazing son.

My son will be 12 at the end of this year, and his feeding issues started from day 1. He wouldn’t latch on to nurse, and the hospital staff threatened to put in an IV if I didn’t give him formula. I caved and gave him the formula. Over the next few weeks we tried to nurse, but my milk never came in. He would only take one kind of formula, had constipation issues from the start, and was on acid reflux medication as an infant. We had to feed him 1 ounce at a time for him to keep it down.

Then we finally moved to solids. He’d only eat one kind of cereal and refused all the homemade baby food I made him. He’d only eat the much smoother, store-bought baby food. He wouldn’t mix foods EVER, even as a 1-year-old.

As he got older and started to understand more, I started to worry. He wasn’t growing out of his issues. I took him to the doctor who told me to food journal. I have journal after journal of wasted food. We tried it all. I actually forced food into his mouth and tried to make him chew. We spent hours at the dinner table using threats, rewards, etc. Once I told him I’d go out and buy him a $150 Batman Lego set he wanted if he’d take one bit of ground beef. It didn’t happen.

The doctor told me he was just being bratty and I shouldn’t give in to him. This made no sense to me since he was such a good kid in other areas. He just didn’t want to eat more than 3 or 4 foods. She told me to make him dinner and if he wouldn’t eat it, he didn’t eat. We tried this for six months and he lost 4 lbs. She told me to give him whatever he’d eat and get him into therapy.

I felt like a complete and total failure. My job as a mom was to meet his basic, human needs, including eating. I couldn’t feed my child. What kind of a mom was I?

Therapist One told me his eating issues were due to issues either I had as a child or my parents had as children… we didn’t go back.

Therapist Two was a play therapist who said he definitely had anxiety but he would benefit more from an Occupational Therapist.

Therapist Three was an OT who gave us some tips we tried. It caused more contention than solution and after five months, he’d made zero progress. She’d told us she’d done all she could and sent us on our way.

Therapist Four was a talk therapist who tried to use new methods to convince him to eat. After six months, he hadn’t added one new food to his list and didn’t seem inclined to do so. She also told us she’d done all she could.

It didn’t make sense. He was a kind, compliant, obedient kid in every area but food. I realized I couldn’t push him more. Every meal was a huge fight and I was destroying his relationship with food. I knew I couldn’t give up, but I couldn’t be the one to force him to eat. It had to be his decision.

I had to let go of the guilt this was causing me. I was doing everything I could do. I had a happy, healthy son. I didn’t need to beat myself up. I wasn’t a bad mom.

This was his “Dream Birthday Dinner.”

One year post-therapy, he is healthy and happy. Food isn’t as big of a fight anymore and dinnertime is a peaceful family time, and not the fight it once once. We’re not perfect by any means, but we’ve found some things that have really worked for us. I thought I’d share them with you in hopes that they might help another struggling parent out there.

Teach Them About Food

Rather than scream, “That’s so bad for you! You have to eat your veggies because they’re healthy!” we’ve tried to teach him what food does in his body. We teach him that sugar can cause anxiety (something he struggles with) and that a good combination of fat, carbohydrate and protein can make him feel good. He won’t eat the vegetables I make for dinner but I tell him what each does in my body. Like “I’m eating these beets because they help my liver clean the bad stuff out of my body.” Or “I’m eating this chicken because it will help my body build muscle and recover from damage.” He knows that bone broth is good when you’re sick. He knows too much dairy is constipating. He knows pure carbohydrate won’t satiate him if he’s really hungry. He has the information and he gets to decide what to do with it.

Make a Plan WITH Them, not FOR Them

When it was clear to me that my son was not going to eat the taco salads I made for dinner, we needed a plan B. Him starving or eating junk weren’t good options for us. Instead, we sat down together and talked about what he will eat. He loves peanut butter. He loves chocolate. He likes apples and very ripe bananas. I found a greens powder he loves. He’ll drink grass-fed milk if it’s mixed with something. This was a good place to start. We came up with a new plan. Together we designed a smoothie he’ll eat that has a bit of pureed spinach. He realized he likes it better frozen, so we make a big batch and freeze it in ice pop molds. Now he has three options for dinner. 1. What I make. 2. Peanut butter, an apple or banana, and chocolate milk greens. 3. A frozen smoothie and an apple or banana. When he complains about the smoothie, I ask “Would you rather have what I made?” It doesn’t have to be a fight. We made the rule together, so he’s more willing to stick to it.

Hide Things

Some parents think hiding healthy things in food is despicable, but I believe I deserve a trophy every time I get away with hiding something in my son’s food. My favorite is collagen powder. I stir collagen powder into his peanut butter, add it to his smoothie and add it to protein balls. He can’t taste it and it gives him protein and helps his digestion.

Again, he drinks a chocolate greens powder daily. He has no idea what’s in it; only that it tastes like chocolate milk.

Have Rules and Stick to Them

Our son is old enough to know each action has a consequence. Our rule is, each snack and meal have to include a fat and protein (he’s like a carb monster), lunch and dinner have to have a fruit of his choice, he can only have a treat if he eats all his dinner, and we won’t buy anything that is high in sugar or contains artificial ingredients. We don’t have to fight about these things because he knows the rule.

Don’t Buy Food You Don’t Want Them to Eat

I’m not naive. Even with all our rules and food education, if I stocked my house with Red Vines, Wonder Bread and Doritos, that’s all my son would eat. I don’t buy them. He doesn’t have access to them. I only buy foods I’m okay with him eating. So even if he doesn’t eat all the foods I want him to eat, I know he’s not eating anything that will cause him a lot of damage.

When he’s out of the house, I’ve learned to let go. If he’s with 15 other 11-year-old boys, they will probably eat gummy bears, cheese crackers and drink sugary drinks. It’s not every day, he knows what it does in his body, and I’ve had to let go of the fight there.

Get Them on Good Vitamins

I wish my son would get his nutrition from real food. Accepting that won’t happen has been really difficult for me, but supplements have helped. We use Juice Plus and I feel so much better about his diet knowing he gets these nutrients each day. Juice Plus is just freeze-dried fruits and vegetables put into gummy form. He loves gummies so this is perfect. Since I love Juice Plus so much, I actually became a representative. If you’d like more information about this, click here to contact me and we’ll chat.

Because I know he’s so deficient, I also give him Smarty Pants Multivitamin and Garden of Life Probiotic. Finding supplements he’d take was also a HUGE game of trial and error. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than just hoping he’ll eat a bowl of spinach.

Recipes That Work for Us

These methods have led to a lot of success in our house. My son doesn’t eat like other kids, but… he also doesn’t eat like other kids. He doesn’t eat a ton of packaged, processed foods and his taste buds show that. He’s okay with things not being overly sweet and he loves homemade food. Here are a few recipes he loves, that I feel totally comfortable giving him.

Products We Love

There are also several products we buy that I feel comfortable with him eating. These include:

So I will continue to try. I’ll continue offering him whole, real food. I’ll continue praying that we find the solution. But I’ll see him for what he is. He’s a compassionate, talented, smart, funny kid with an amazing heart. He’s healthy, happy and makes good choices. I hope one day he’ll eat vegetables, meat and more fruits, but if he doesn’t, I believe he can still be successful in life. And most importantly, I won’t let this ruin our relationship or make him fear food. He’s too amazing to be brought down by this.

What works for you with the picky/problem feeders in your household?

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