07 March 2014

Oh, it's a scary food! I'm afraid.

*Title of post compliments of Emperor's New Groove

In January, I blogged a bit about my child's absurdly picky eating and talked about a book I'd picked up that I was hoping would help a bit. Here's an update.

So the book is called Food Chaining, and I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart. It's a "proven 6 step plan" to get kids eating normally, but only the 6th step reflects the title. The first five steps all relate to meeting with medical experts and therapists to rule out any physical reason for a rejection of food. Having been through the process already, I can easily see how it could take a good six months to get to the sixth step and begin food chaining.

But it's definitely logical. It doesn't make any sense to food chain your child to eat mashed potatoes if the reason they aren't currently eating them is because they lack the ability to properly rotate food in their mouths.

However, we've already been through all five of those steps. We already meet regularly with speech and occupational therapists. I know that Abigail's mouth muscles are doing what is expected of them, that her tongue movement with regard to food is right on, and we are addressing her sensory issues. We met monthly with a nutritionist in Chicago to evaluate her diet. We visited the gastroenterologist and had workups done to determine the state of Abigail's digestive system. We've got her on meds to control the vomiting and stomach irritation. Fun stuff.

So we got to sally forth into step number six. Food chaining. The basics are as follows: very slowly, introduce your child to new foods that are so similar to the foods they like, you'll have a hard time telling the difference. Keep new food introductions low-key and don't force anything. Focus on getting the child to eat new foods before you worry about getting them to eat healthy food.

So here's an example of a food chain:
If you child eat's McDonald's french fries, next offer:
-fries from other fast food restaurants
-store-bought frozen fries
-the tops of tater tots or hashbrowns
-fried potatoes, steak fries or potato wedges
-baked potato
-baked potato with toppings
-mashed potatoes with toppings
-Shepherd’s pie – starting with primarily mashed potatoes and slowly changing the potato/meat ratio.

And there you go, after months (years?) of work, up to 50 exposures per new food item, and a few dozen steps backwards, BAM you have a child eating meat pie. Easy, right?

Oh goodness gracious.

The good news is that as I was going through the book, I again realized how well off we are. Abigail doesn't eat a lot of foods, but she eats a lot of different types of food, so we have significantly more food chains to play with.

So far in the world of food chaining, I've gotten her to eat:
-12 noodles of (homemade) mac n' cheese with small bits of broccoli in it, which is the most she's ever eaten of mac n' cheese or broccoli! And the best news is that she ate it without complaint! Happily even. She probably would have eaten more, but I really wanted to end on a positive note, so once all 12 noodles were gone, I took away her plate and offered her a safe food.
-cheddar and sour cream kettle cooked potato chips
-A new flavor of Cheerios (this was a softball, but I'll still take it)
-1/4 of a brown sugar cinnamon pop tart
-1/4 of this blueberry biscuit she should love, but is being difficult about

With my new couponing skills, I scored this box for $.95 and thought it would be a home run. Abigail loves blueberries, crackers, sweets, and things she can eat by herself. What is not to like about these? Matt and I tried them and find them addictingly delicious. But you see, the a large part of the problem is that they are new and different and therefore scary. Part of me wants to shout, "just get over it, kid!" But the other part of me recognizes that I would rather starve than eat something scary, like bugs. I think it's accurate to say I'd probably starve to death before I'd eat bugs.

So anyway, before we can even begin to taste the food, we need to give Abigail positive experiences with its mere presence. I only expose her to it every few days and I act like I'm handing her nothing different than her water bottle. I hold the box and let her open it and pull out a new package. I let her carry it around the apartment, squishing the wrapper to hear the noise it makes and smelling it through the package. We open it together and I let her pull one out by herself (at this point, she's in her high chair, which she doesn't usually fight because she's in a good mood about her independent play with the new food). If it's a good day, she will nibble on the cracker while I eat or prepare my breakfast, but about 1/4 of the way in, she realizes what is going on and chucks the biscuit across the room. If it's a bad day, we go straight to chucking. I don't get mad or say anything critical. I just pick up the biscuit and offer Abigail a plastic bag to put it in. As she loves in-and-out play, she happily says "bye bye" to the new food and puts it in the ziplock bag. When I put it back in the cupboard and close the door, she smiles and says, "all done."

And that, my friends, is a huge victory. She got in the high chair without complaint, she touched the new food, sometimes she didn't throw it until after she'd tasted it, and we ended on a positive note. Oh yeah, and there were no tears or heat banging.

So we're over here making slow, painfully slow, progress in the world of food. Made even more painful by her recent phasing out of grilled cheese (there goes a major food chaining food), but at least we're taking steps forward somewhere. And actually, I found a yogurt Abigail loves. It's the really healthy Yoplait Light brand, you know, the one full of aspartame? Yeah, she's head-over-heels for it. I just have to keep reminding myself, "At least she is eating something she once thought was scary."

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