“Just three more bites” was a common phrase in our household when we assumed we just had a typical 2-year-old picky eater. Time passed, and the same phrase or similar ones were used over the constant power struggle between parent and child. Months went by, and I made a log of what my 2-year-old was eating, and it was basically an all-starch diet sprinkled with some preferred fruits and vegetables. So I contacted a speech therapist friend to see if she thought it could be something more and if intervention was needed. After a few quick texts back and forth, she told me that getting evaluated for feeding therapy might be what we need.
After doing a little research on my own, I reached out to a local private therapy place (given he was going to be too old for First Steps Services in the next few months) to have an evaluation completed. I brought a small lunch filled with foods I wanted my son to eat, but he often struggled with gagging, spitting food out, or just flat-out wouldn’t touch. The session was interesting to watch her engage with him as I sat there in awe of how she would get him to try different foods or be completely okay when he would tell her “no.” I started to take notes on how she was turning my struggling eater into a strong eater.
Tips and Tricks That Worked for Us
“Kitchen is Closed”
At the time, I was worried about my kiddo’s weight and size. I wanted to make sure he didn’t go to bed hungry. By doing that, I was offering him food after dinner. This gave him a way out of not eating what we ate at dinner time. So with the advice of our great speech therapist, we put out a stop sign in our kitchen. The kitchen was closed all day unless it was our designated snack or meal time. Then we would flip the sign over, allowing everyone to eat, and at the end of the meal, the sign would come back out. This gave him boundaries. And full disclosure, there were tough nights in the beginning, with him laying in bed asking for food. I wanted to give in but knew I needed him to find long-term success with his eating battle. But over time, with consistency, he knew he would not get extra food after dinner, and it was his job to eat.
Changing my Lingo
I got rid of saying things like, “You need to take two more bites before you can have dessert.” I replaced this saying, “Let’s be food explorers,” and he would either smell it, lick it, take a nibble, etc. We would talk about how food gives us energy, and we need it to fill our bellies. I let him take control. If he said he was done with dinner, we would ask him one more time and remind him that there would be no snacks until the next meal. He would often take a few more bites, knowing the rules.
I would scan his plate toward the end of a meal to see if I felt he had eaten well enough. I would remind him that I would choose his snack later if he didn’t eat enough at this meal. Sometimes this motivated him to eat more, knowing he would want control over choosing his own snack later on. I would supplement his snack with high protein/healthy choices when he did not eat enough. Think of things like hummus & pita bread or cottage cheese & fruit.
Changing the Food
This does not mean I gave him a different meal, as we have always stuck to this rule in our house. I’m not a short-order cook. What this means is he would ask me to change his food. He may ask my husband and me to cut his meal differently, give an additional sauce, or add something like crumbled chips or breadcrumbs to a food he didn’t like the texture. Now, almost six months past his “graduation” from feeding therapy, he will still ask me to change his food. He is his own advocate for eating, which is impressive for a three-year-old.
We struggled with having family members understand what he was going through. Questioning our motives and thinking we were letting our toddler rule the roost. Family gatherings were tough sometimes, especially when traditional food was served. But over time, he improved, and I could bring a dish to share that would supplement what was being served.
The biggest thing I did was go with my gut. I had discussions with my child’s doctor, and given he was following his growth curve, they weren’t concerned. I chose to listen to my mother’s intuition, and it was the best decision for my child and my family because mealtime is enjoyable again. You know your child best, so start jotting some notes down, doing research, and making some calls. You won’t regret the tools you’ll be giving your child and family to have a happy meal time once again.