Picky eaters are never easy, but if your picky eater is a special needs child, it can be grounds for pulling your hair out. With any child, we worry about them getting the right nutrition, but when a child is developmentally delayed and/or medically fragile, the dilemma may be more than just a nuisance.
Having dealt with several medically fragile and strong-willed special needs kids during the course of our twenty years as a foster family, here are a few tips that worked for us.
*Pediasure is a life-saver. Literally. There are several brands of complete liquid nutrition, unfortunately all are pricey, but it has all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that a child’s body needs.
When a child won’t eat, many times, they will drink and making the drink a complete nutritive that tastes good and is high in calories and protein for growth kills several birds with one stone. Make sure, however that the liquid nutrition you choose is pediatric until your child is age twelve.
*Stay smart about snacks. Don’t indulge your paranoia that “at least he’s eating” when he is eating junk food between meals. On the other hand, remember that getting calories into medically fragile kids is important. Therefore, make some plans about high-calorie, high-nutrient foods that he can have as desserts or snacks. Graham crackers or apple slices with peanut butter, puddings and custards, yogurt smoothies with fruit are good choices.
Have a good solid schedule for meals and snacks. Special needs kids tend to need consistency more than your run-of-the-mill child. It gives his body a chance to get the rhythm of being full, being hungry.
*Don’t be locked in by “normal” meals. Yes, we want our special needs kids to get accustomed to what everybody else thinks is good, but sometimes their sensory perceptions are quite different . They may not be able to articulate why they cannot abide baked or mashed potatoes when every other kid we know is practically inhaling them.
Sometimes, it is an increased sensitivity to salty tastes or an aversion to a certain texture of the food. Fighting battles over a food when a substitute of equal nutrition is available only makes everybody miserable. Let him eat the same food over and over if he wants to as long as it is nutritionally sound.
*Sometimes we have to resort to weirdness to get the job done. With our two quadriplegic sons, both medically fragile, we did the unthinkable. With Tim, we discovered that if we put a bite of vanilla pudding or yogurt on every spoonful of food, he would eat anything. With De’Arius, everything had to be mixed with apple cinnamon oatmeal. He would eat spaghetti, liver and onions, anything as long as it was mixed with apple cinnamon oatmeal. We figured that at least he probably would never have high cholesterol.
*Don’t stress. If a child is eating two solid meals a day, he’s probably doing all right. A lot of times, special needs kids don’t get as much exercise as other kids and their need for three hearty meals is not as great.
So, if your child ate a good oatmeal and yogurt breakfast, canned spaghetti and meat balls and pudding for lunch, he may not want much dinner. If you stress over it, he will too, and that doesn’t help the appetite, either. Let him have a drink of Pediasure and don’t worry about it as long as he doesn’t seem to be sick.
One thing that you have to look forward to, is that it seems that picky eaters do grow out of it eventually. Some kids that we thought would never eat a solid meal grew to love pancakes and sausage, jambalaya, even vegetable beef curry. It seems to be that a little indulgence in their quirky likes and dislikes, some common sense, and a good sense of humor goes a long way.
Just keep on doing what you have always done as far as your special needs child is concerned; keep your fingers crossed, your prayers said, and go with the flow.