I may have mentioned this a time or two, but the boys really struggle with food. For Wonder Boy, it’s a combination of being 5 and preferring to eat nothing but chicken nuggets and string cheese (he does eat a few more things) every meal for the end of time and also having sensory needs which are not met by many standard “kid” foods. For example, anything soft or creamy is totally out of the question, with the possible exception of ice cream. He won’t eat regular yogurt (soft, creamy, and full of stuff that he doesn’t trust), mac & cheese (though he will eat pasta with parmesan cheese), hot dogs, the list goes on.
For Speedy, it’s a combination of medication which prevents him from being super hungry and a major anxiety about…everything. That anxiety at mealtime is typically connected to wanting to please his parents, aide, and teacher and being terrified that he’ll fail. No child of 7 should have to feel that level of anxiety, but it is with him 100% of the time. Because of his meds, he really can’t eat a lot at any one time, and because he may leave food on his plate, in his mind this is letting us down. This all manifests as stomach cramps, and the cycle just continues to get worse.
As a result of these things, we’ve come up with some alternatives. For Wonder Boy, we focus on just getting protein in him and the key vitamins and nutrients. As long as he’s had a peanut butter sandwich (no jelly, please) or chicken nuggets we’re happy with the protein, and in a pinch he can have a meal replacement shake. For Speedy, we feed him many tiny meals throughout the day, and his aide at school has been an integral part of making this work. At dinner, we allow him to stay focused on something like music or an educational program on television, and then he’s more likely to actually eat without anxiety.
Recently, we signed them up for a program at one of the universities which allows Occupational Therapy students to work directly with kids. They play and provide the kids all sorts of input, allow them to crash, swing, roll, and spin. Then all of the kids go into the kitchen, where they work with the students on having fun with food. The students provide the kids with an example of something fun they’ll make with food, usually a design or an animal. Then they give the kids the food items needed and see if they can recreate the design.
Along the way, they ask the kids if they will smell the food, then “kiss” the food, then move up to touching the food against their teeth. Wonder Boy got as far as the kiss yesterday with one of his least favorite foods, celery. This was huge for him! Last week they made animals with apple slices, raisins, string cheese, and sugar snap peas. He now will eat sugar snaps as long as I make him a “mantis” out of his food.
I know that eventually mealtime should get easier. Having raised up two other boys, I’ve watched them move through various food phases and ultimately become people who really enjoy a wide variety of items. In the meantime, we navigate each food encounter with the precision of a highly-skilled CIA operative. At times sneaking in the stuff they need, and negotiating as though our lives depended on it.