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?