“This Egg Is Making Me Uncomfortable”
Five ways to address finicky eating in a child with ADHD. (None of which involve shoving a spoonful of oatmeal into his unsuspecting mouth.)
“This egg is making me uncomfortable.”
My son, William, said this exact phrase to me one morning as I tried to get him to eat an egg for the umpteenth time. He stared at the fried egg I’d carefully prepared, crispy brown edges and all, and gagged as he brought a tiny bite up to his mouth. He was about 9 at the time.
Why did eating have to be so difficult? All I was trying to get him to do was eat something other than bowtie pasta and freshly shaven parmesan cheese. The worst part was that, though William had been a super-picky eater from the time we introduced solid foods, his finicky palate worsened after he started ADHD medication.
Given his weight loss and small size, my husband and I consulted a licensed naturopathic doctor for ways to supplement his diet. Her primary recommendation was to increase William’s protein intake. Each morning, I tried to cook the “perfect” egg in hopes he would finally crack (no pun intended!) and eat the dang thing.
What I didn’t realize, which is mind-boggling given my profession, was that William’s finicky palate was not something he could overcome on his own. I knew that kids with autism suffered from sensory-related food rigidities, but I didn’t realize that many kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) had the same challenges.
The good news is that I forgave myself long ago for my blockheadedness.
The even better news is that, since I’ve raised a child with ADHD and worked as a child psychologist for many years, I’m learned a ton about how to help parents in similar predicaments. Here’s what I would suggest:
1. Become a Food Detective
If your child responds to the texture, appearance, and smells of foods in an unusual manner (a.k.a. he or she looks revolted, gags, or cries when encouraged to take a bite), don’t minimize this reaction.
My husband, Bill, got so frustrated with William for crying and refusing to eat when he was a toddler, that Bill actually shoved a bite of oatmeal into his gaping mouth. In Bill’s defense, he thought that if William tried the oatmeal, he would discover that he liked it. It wasn’t until William nearly threw up that Bill backed off.
Sometimes, we’re slow learners.
Instead of getting pushy, which rarely works anyway, why not move into detective mode and try to discover what’s driving your child’s finickiness?
Is it the lumpy texture of the fruit in the yogurt?
The sour smell?
The cold temperature?
Once we identify the problem, we can often find a solution.
2. Consult with a Feeding Specialist
Imagine how much better mealtimes could have been if Bill and I had consulted a feeding specialist? We spoke to a handful of pediatricians, but they didn’t have enough training to get to the root of the problem.
Today, given the rise in neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism, feeding therapy is offered by some clinics, especially those that specialize in treating children with developmental differences.
Organizations, like Feeding Matters Power of Two Program, offer support for families impacted by Pediatric Feeding Disorders (PFD).
Check out the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation, an organization that offers similar support.
3. Stop Buying Off-Limits Foods
This is a big one in my book. I can’t tell you how many parents complain that they literally have to LOCK UP junk foods, like Pop Tarts and Fruity Pebbles cereal, because their kids binge on them.
The question I always ask them is this: Why are you stocking up on junk food in the first place?
Don’t get me wrong. I always have a stash of dark chocolate that I rotate to different hiding spots in the house. But I stopped buying triggering foods, like high-sugar cereal, years ago. It’s not good for anybody, especially a child with poor impulse control.
Plus, high-carb foods are really hard for kids with ADHD to resist.
Check out this article about the ADHD-dopamine Link, which triggers sugar and carb cravings.
Do yourself and your kid a favor and stop buying it!
Once your child knows the junk food is out of the house, he or she will likely be more open to eating healthier foods, too. I know I am.
4. Consider Supplementing Your Child’s Diet
Some research suggests that children with ADHD may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and magnesium, and in omega-3 fatty acids.
These mixed findings have made it difficult for many parents to know how to proceed. I encourage parents to consult with their child’s health care provider first before adding supplements to their diet. That way the provider can review your child’s medical history, medication, and general health and then discuss potential benefits and risks.
When my son was little, I snuck omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) into his bow-tie pasta, with guidance from his pediatrician and licensed naturopathic doctor. He tolerated Nordic Natural’s lemon-flavored fish oil the best.
5. Give Juice the Heave-Ho
Instead of serving juice at meals, switch to water. It’s way better for dental health and it reduces sugar cravings, which often interfere with a child’s appetite. High levels of juice consumption have been associated with weight problems in children, too.
Check out this article 9 Food Rules for ADHD Families: What to Eat, What to Avoid about the benefits of serving your child water, as well as 8 other food rules for ADHD families.
Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
- Assume a detective mindset and try to get to the bottom of the problem.
- If your child’s feeding problems persist, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a feeding specialist.
- If you don’t want your child to sneak into your bedroom at night in search of gummy worms, stop buying them!
- Supplement your child’s diet when possible with guidance from a licensed professional, such as a naturopathic doctor.
- Offer water instead of juice at meals.
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