Food Likes and Dislikes… a tough problem to lick!

He licks a food and quickly says he doesn’t like it. How can that be? He loves the individual ingredients!

Last Wednesday, I hosted a Mommy Muncheon launching Healthy Habits—my new nutrition and exercise program for children. We made granola bars and vanilla chia pudding because they are featured in the Healthy Habits’ recipe book which accompanies the program. Needless to say, I had plenty of granola bars left over. So I broke them into crumbles for homemade granola and put some on my very picky son’s dinner plate. 
Amazingly—without any prompting—he picked it up to eat. But with one quick lick, he declared he didn’t like it! I asked: “What is it that you don’t like?” You see, I am really trying to understand whether it is texture, taste, temperature, anxiety or goodness knows what that’s causing his immediate adverse reaction. I have many clients who come to me for the very same reason. This is one of my specialties but when it’s personal, it becomes emotional and subjective rather than objective. This complicates my son’s relationship with feeding and eating even more. I am overly sensitive to preventing an eating disorder (control issue) and to ensuring my child has boundaries and balanced nutrition. I’m also aware that this can be more than about the food itself…rather, an issue about texture or something else entirely. All of these possibilities run through my mind and I try to walk this fine line to prevent any one thing from meaning more than its face value. 
Mind you, I have been through this with my older son Bobby; he is now a healthy and self-regulated intuitive eater willing to taste most foods without my initiating the trial. Billy, on the other hand, still doesn’t eat pasta, eggs or chicken. Yes, I admit this so other parents can realize they are not failing their kids. Even professionals, well…actually most professionals, have kids struggling in their own areas of expertise!
Now that Billy is four years old, I’m trying to create a simple dialogue to help him express why he finds particular foods okay to eat versus not okay. Instead of getting upset when he didn’t like the granola, I treated the situation as if I were in the office with a client. Billy said he just didn’t like the way the granola “felt.” I calmly explained that he likes all of the individual foods combined in the granola and really loves granola bars. To help him “see” this for himself, I literally deconstructed the granola into its separate components—rice puffs, bran flakes, oats, cranberries, etc. Billy had a rice puff and liked it…and then he tasted and liked each of the other ingredients as well. So he again tried a clump and said it was the “taste” that he didn’t like. Peanut butter and honey make up the “glue” holding the granola bar’s parts together. Since he loves peanut butter and sweet foods, I really can’t understand his dislike. So, I just give up and say “Okay.” But my “okay” really means “Cool!” “Thanks for trying.” “Enjoy your dinner!” The mere fact that Billy sat patiently with me for this discussion and didn’t resist trying the foods is a huge step in the right direction toward increasing his variety as well as his nutrition intake. I’m satisfied; he’s neutral. I guess I should try to treat these food hurdles as clinical situations more often…and I’ll try. But remember, I am human and can’t promise I’ll always be so objective! 

Here are some tips you may find helpful in the kitchen when working with a selective eater. And of course, remember to keep your cool. 

Food Exposure Tips:
1. Sit together as a family for as many meals each week as possible.
2. Place the food on the table for your child to see.
3. If your child accepts the “one bite rule,” implement it.

a. If your child resists the above, try using the rule but let him/her spit the food out.

b. If your child resists the above, try a “one lick rule.

c. If your child resists the “one lick rule,” just put the food on his/her plate. Your child does not have to eat it and should know this.

4. Continue to expose the selective eater to new and old foods as tastes and anxiety levels change.
5. If your child tries a food or doesn’t, try to create a dialogue around the feelings he/she is experiencing

a. Ask:  What are you feeling (emotionally scared, happy, sad, adventurous, brave)?

b. How did the food feel in your mouth (bumpy, smooth, dry, wet)?

c. Is the food chewy or creamy?

d. What do you like about the experience?

6. Be patient and neutral. Act like a science teacher. Repeat the process regularly; it takes time!

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