Eating Issues — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Eating Issues

by Kimberly


We’ve developed a really good system for getting the child to eat when we are together as a family. Like most things now that it has become the routine she doesn’t even need a lot of support for this most of the time, but occasionally she is too tired, anxious, excited, distracted, or angry to sit and eat. When we’re at home we know what to do, and it works for her. She’s even moved way beyond most of her picky eating phase and will try new and unusual things. The more unusual the better. The other night at a restaurant she tried mussels – something her mom (ahem) wasn’t even too sure about trying. They were pretty good (I had two to be a good example). She ate about eight of them…more than some of the adults…and would have eaten more if we had ordered another round. I think she was sort of intrigued that they came in their shells and therefore had to try them.

So the issue remains: how to get her to eat when we aren’t there to supervise and support. The other day at a church potluck she wanted to sit with the other kids and eat (social triumph!), but a little while later she brought me her untouched plate of food and said she was too full to eat. Whatever had happened there was no convincing her that she needed to eat some food, and though she agreed to eat later, it never happened. At school she is given two opportunities to eat – a morning snack and lunch. I’ve slowly refined my method for packing these, trying always to optimize how much she will eat. We have a “healthy” foods policy at school, so we can’t send junk foods. I ask her what she wants and we come up with a good mix of fruit and carbs, but protein seems to be a sticking point. There are only a few that she will agree to pack in her lunch, and that is always under some amount of protest. I even conceded to packing a hot dog for a few days, hoping that wouldn’t get the “healthy” food police down on us. Many times the entire snack and lunch will come back home and I’ll pick up a hungry and grumpy girl from school.

I know this problem is not unique to us, or even to special needs children. The question is what can we do about it, or should we just not worry about it too much? We’ve tried asking for more support for this during our IEP meetings, and not much has changed. I do what I can to motivate her from home, but honestly I think it is a social anxiety related issue. When she is sitting with other children (witness church potluck above) without a lot of adult support she is probably overwhelmed with just trying to say and do the right thing and/or distracted by all of the talking and energy surrounding her. Some combination of these two effects, and she can’t eat.

Is this an issue you face with your child? How do you handle it? What strategies do you have in place to ensure your child has the fuel they need to perform at their best?

Email Author    |    Website About Kimberly

Kimberly is the mother of three wonderful children: an eight-year-old who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and twin four-year-olds who are just very busy little people. We live on routine with a side of novelty.

View all articles by


This post may contain affiliate links. When you use them, you support this site. Thank you!
See our Disclosure Policy for details.
1 val June 23, 2011 at 7:15 am

Will she at least drink? Maybe a Pediasure or Carnation shake would at least give her a little bit of energy to survive the day?

2 KDL June 27, 2011 at 12:42 am

Milk is the one thing she won’t drink. I think that is a texture thing, not sure. I think those drinks would be too “milk-like” for her. Normally she is motivated by the promise of dessert, but that wasn’t even enough the other day – which pointed me to anxiety. I know I can’t eat when I’m worried…

3 Jo June 23, 2011 at 9:06 am

I both laughed and cried at the same time. Oh can I relate. I have two boys with feeding issues…They need to eat little and often. We too have the “healthy food” policies. Ugh.
I advocated that the oldest can have some crackers and breadsticks for morning break. This was after obeying the rules for the for first few years and he had no snack. Without a morning snack at lunchtime he was too tired to eat much plus they get so little time to eat anyway. He has crackers, breadsticks, mini crossiants(in past few weeks!!!) and a yogurt.
It has been a battle..
As far as the social events I tend to give them something to eat before we go so they have enough energy to take part. If they eat something when they are there then is is an added bonus.
For your daughter the “stress” of the dinner possibly suppressed her appetite. My son describes his belly been full of butterflies. Plus mine our quite sensitive to smells..
I just so could realte to all you wrote and today I needed to read this.

4 KDL June 27, 2011 at 12:45 am

Yeah I think it is definitely an anxiety response. I think next time (these are monthly events) I will have her help pick the food and she will have to sit with us – maybe with one friend joining us.

5 Darla Yates June 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I just learned several months ago that ensure makes a juice that has 7 grams of protein in 200 ml. It comes in wild berry and apple flavors. Looks just like any other juice box. You need no script for it and can order it thru your local Sam’s pharmacy. My 13 year old son has eating/feeding difficulties and has had a g-tube sinc
e 18 months old. We have come along ways in eating but still look for things to help supplement him.

6 Laurie June 24, 2011 at 2:00 am

Had similar issues with my 8 year old over the past few years. I freak out about it when she loses a pound because she was dx Failure to Thrive more than once as a baby and toddler in foster care before our family. I’ve done the things you mentioned. Then we just experimented and ended up discovering that our daughter would eat big breakfasts (that balance out never eating lunch at school) if we fed her dinner at breakfast. So everyone else now eats their cereal and waffles, while my 8 year old sits down to a plate of chicken, rice and veggies at 7 a.m. I couldn’t stomach that myself, but at least she’s eating at SOME point in the day. 🙂

7 Jo June 24, 2011 at 7:04 am

Laurie; Your reply made me think. We have finally got a firm diagnosis. The correct one and one that has helped put lots of pieces of the puzzle together. What struck me about your reply and also Kimberley description of her daughter trying new things with the family is how well we as parents learn to adapt to the issue. We work to find the solution that fits and helps our children to fit.
It can often be a lonely one when your child doesn’t fit into everyone else’s box….
I can relate to the fear of failure to thrive. We had it knock on our door between 12-18 months. Ironically the prescribed way of helping them gain weight like extra calories from whole milk, cream etc.. would not have worked for us. I had to step out on my own and find what would work. Through trial and error we found eating little and often (like every 2 hours) helped.
For the first time in a long time I can see the forest for the trees. This is what it is but now we know we can work with it….

8 KDL June 27, 2011 at 12:51 am

Dinner at breakfast…now that is creative! I think the child’s stressing over school starts fairly early in the day, so she won’t eat much at breakfast either. She is addicted to granola bars, so I’ve started putting those in her snack. Evidently that is healthy enough, but she loves them so will take the time to eat it. Sometimes that’s enough to get her through the day even if she doesn’t eat lunch. She always is ravenous after school – eats a big snack plus usually a big dinner. I guess it all evens out. Mostly I wish I could ease the anxiety that’s behind it all.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: