Help for Picky eaters and non-chewers

Aw, c’mon…try it! You’ll like it!

No way, Jose. Never. No. Forget it. Not on your life. Nyet.

Option 1: Wait til he’s 34. LOL.

Really, there’s still hope. Jonathan (DS, ADHD, etc.) has never been able to chew, and “froze” his diet when he was around 5 years old. By that, I mean he refused to eat anything that he wasn’t already eating. But, astonishingly, that suddenly changed a few months after he turned 34. Read on for hope and some tips for helping picky eaters and non-chewers…

“If he can’t chew, what do you feed him?”

I still get asked this question. He eats a normal diet; I just prepare it so he can basically swallow it as is without coughing or the danger of choking.

  • Breakfast: whole grain flaked cereal soaked in the fridge overnight in milk; put in the blender in the morning with protein powder and a probiotic (I use “PB8” because it’s the only one I found that eliminates gas).
  • Lunch: a combination of veggie burger, chicken, broccoli, carrot, cucumber, and avocado, all mashed or grated or put through the food processor; PB8 added, as well as some veggie “green powder”. Natural fruit juice, cut 50/50 with water; he refuses water but will accept this substitute.
  • Supper: a smoothie of unflavored yogurt, banana, blueberries, protein powder, and whatever other fruit is on hand. “Crumbs” on top and then stirred in (until we went gluten free, we used ground whole wheat graham cracker crumbs; now we use gluten-free “cake crumbs”.)

The experiment begins…

“Different! Different!”

About that lunch…we fed him that for YEARS because he wouldn’t accept anything else. Personally, I would have been “over it” after two days. Or maybe one. But that was his demand, so we did it.

But recently we got a report from the Goodwill center where he attends a “CARE” program: he’s throwing his lunch in the trash, uneaten. In other words, he’d finally gotten to the point where he’d rather go hungry than eat that stuff.

“Different! I want different!” he said to me.

Different??? Hallelujah!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it. At age 34 he’s finally had enough! So I got busy trying to think of nutritious foods that didn’t require a lot of processing and work for the caregiver. Here’s what I came up with:

  • hummus (regular, garlic, and red pepper for variety, now that he actually wants something different)
  • hard boiled egg, mashed
  • hard boiled egg, mashed with mayo (I called it “egg salad”)
  • baked sweet potato, mashed
  • avocado and veggie burger stayed in because he gave them a thumbs up

The Experiment Begins!

So I laid it out as you see in the picture above, with everything labeled, so he’d know what he was tasting. (That’s the only reference to “reading” that you’re going to see in this article!) I included dishes of the “old food.” I put a plastic tasting spoon in each dish so he could judge for himself whether he liked it or not. I explained that I wanted him to taste a spoon of each food and see what he liked.

Suddenly…NO WAY! He dug his heels in. He did NOT want to do this. (Did I mention he also has ODD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder?)

But my name is MOM and by golly, you’re going to have to taste a little bit of “different” that you asked for. So shaking his head “no” the whole time, he nevertheless opened his mouth and I prevailed.

Then I put portions of each one in his bowl and got out of his way, watching him from another room as he ate in private. He did in fact eat. When he finished, this man of few words announced, “Fine.” Then he stood up and pointed to the “egg salad.” “That one,” he said. Okay, egg salad has a vote.

And that was that.

Really. Now he’s asking for some spaghetti sauce and…and…who knows!

This really can happen, though I would NEVER have predicted it. And while we’re talking about not being able to chew and the problem of rejecting so many foods, let me include some tips for you.

TIP #1: 2019 is not 1990: Talk Tools

When Jonathan was 5 in 1990, the only resources I could find to help solve the chewing problem were P.T.s, O.T.s, and SLPs. The most helpful thing we learned was that Jonathan has no lateral movement of the tongue; he can move food from front to back, but not side to side. In other words, if you put it in his mouth, he’s going to try to swallow it as is. There was no help beyond that information.

If he were 5 TODAY, I’d make a beeline to an SLP who specializes in “Talk Tools.” Amen. I believe he would be chewing today if that program had been in full swing 20 years ago. So if you’re not already hooked into TT, please check it out.

TIP #2: Meanwhile, make real food “swallowable”

Don’t stay glued to baby food and sugar-laced fruit yogurt. Use a blender, food processor, fine grater, masher, whatever, but serve your child REAL food. A mashed baked sweet potato does NOT taste the same or have the same baby texture as a jar of baby food squash or sweet potato. And the nutrition can’t be compared.

And this may sound gross, but for the sake of being able to hide new and nutritious food in familiar food, consider stirring it lightly all together in a bowl and letting the child eat it from the bowl. As unappealing as it sounds, that’s how Jonathan has eaten lunch all these years. That made it easier for me to slip in finely ground (in food processor) fresh-cooked chicken, for example. He never knew it was there.

TIP #3: Don’t force swallowing whole food!

One of the most painful moments for me to see in my travels, giving reading workshops to DS orgs, occurred during supper after one closing event. I sat across from a child of about 10 (with Down syndrome). He couldn’t chew; had never been able to. His mom meant well, but she had ordered a plate of macaroni for him and insisted that he scoop it up and swallow it. He objected, but she insisted. I could tell that she somehow thought that if he put enough food in his mouth, he’d figure out how to chew. I’ll never forget the look of pain on his face as he forced himself to swallow the food whole. His mom just didn’t understand. That is not the way to get a child to chew; if his body knew how to chew, he’d do it in a heartbeat! (See my note above about Talk Tools.)

Please. Talk Tools! Chewing won’t happen by itself if it hasn’t already.

Picky eaters can change!

It can really, truly happen. With enough years of living under their belts, our offspring can one day surprise us with some flexibility. Hang in there! I hope you try some of the tips in this article; better than that, I hope they help!


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