19 answers

Fussy Eater - Wilmette,IL

Hi, My 18 month old boy is a fussy eater. He has now started gagging when we put new food in front of him. For example tonight I made some mac and cheese and put a small bowl in front of him. He gagged just looking at it. This happens with most new foods we try to introduce, although usually he just crys until we take it away, the gagging has just started as an additional rejection of the food. He wont eat any meat, and generally a fussy eater, any advise, has anyone seen this before. Thanks K.

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So What Happened?™

Thanks everyone for your responses. Overall my little boy is healthy, full of energy and developing. The eating problems definitely push your patience. Last night for the first time he took a bite of home made chicken schnitzel, only one bite, but he chewed and swallowed! Its definitely the gagging when just looking at new foods that is most concerning me, so its good to hear that we are not alone, and i guess that its not necessarily completely abnormal! As many of you have suggested we will keep persisting, in the introduction of foods, and keep it fun! We are also going to make an appointment with our GP and talk to her about it further. I was also talking to me brother last night, and we both agreed that we a a little the same, and were prob like this as children. I remember being completely frightened by wholemeal or grain bread, and the thought of being made to eat it was terrifying, infact I remember when I was about 7 going home from a friends house late at night, when I was supposed to be sleeping the night, the reason I wanted to go home was because I didn't want to have to eat the wholemeal toast for breakfast! So maybe there is something in the genetics that makes us more sensitive! Thanks again, all your advise was so much help!

Featured Answers

Hi K.,

My brother was exactly like this when we were younger and my mother removed the behavior within a month. She didn't have the time to prepare different dishes for all of us so she just put the food in front of all of us and we were told to just ignore him and eat. Eventually he wanted to be like his mom, dad, big bro and big sis and just started taking his time and eating. And if he didn't eat she let him go to bed hungry. My mom was worried he was allergic to milk or some foods so she did watch him carefully to see how he picked at his food but in the end, it all worked out. The other posters have said don't put up with the behavior and I would just add also don't make it a big deal so that there is not too much attention given to the bad behavior. Worked for my family. Good Luck to you.

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I have a 3 year old now, but she was the same way. It started when I tried any food, baby food, solid foods it didn't matter. She would just gag and sometimes throws up and there were days where she would ate TWO cherrios if that. After I got no help from my peds, my MOM started to give her "shakes". Milk based with bananas, fruit, oatmeal/or rice, avacado, carrot juice. She blends them with whatever we have in stock. To this day my daughter still doesn't eat much solid foods, she asks for her shakes 2 - 4 times a day. She is underweight but quite healthy and active.

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There is a great book by William G Wilkoff, MD called Coping with a Picky Eater that every parent or provider of kids should read and have a copy of. http://www.amazon.com/Coping-Picky-Eater-Perplexed-Parent...

This book has what I call the Picky Eater Plan. I have used this plan with kids that literally threw up at the sight of food and within 2 weeks they were eating normal amounts of everything and trying every food.

First you need to get everyone who deals with the child on board. If you are a provider it's ok to make this the rule at your house and not have the parents follow through but you wont' see as good results as what I described up above.

The plan is to limit the quantities of food you give the kid. When I first start with a child I give them literally ONE bite worth of each food I am serving. The book suggests that every time you feed the kids (breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner) you give all 4 food groups. So, for lunch today I would have given the child one tiny piece of strawberry, one spoonful of applesauce, 3 macaroni noodles with cheese on them, and 2 oz of milk. Only after they ate ALL of what was on their plate would you give them anything else. They can have the same amounts for seconds. If they only want more mac and cheese, they only get 3 noodles then they would have to have more of all the other foods in order to get more than that. If they don't eat, fine. If they don't finish, fine. Don't make a big deal out of it, just make them stay at the table until everyone else is done eating. They don't get more food until they are sat at the next meal and they only get what you serve. When I first do this with a child I don't serve sweets at all. So no animal crackers for snack but rather a carrot for snack. Or one of each of those. I don't make it easy for them to gorge on bad foods in other words. Now if they had a meal where they ate great then I might make the snack be a yummy one cause I know they filled up on good foods.

Even at snacks you have to limit quantities of the good stuff or else they will hold out for snack and just eat those snacky foods. I never give a picky eater the reward of a yummy snack unless they had that great lunch prior to it.

It really is that easy.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi K.,

My brother was exactly like this when we were younger and my mother removed the behavior within a month. She didn't have the time to prepare different dishes for all of us so she just put the food in front of all of us and we were told to just ignore him and eat. Eventually he wanted to be like his mom, dad, big bro and big sis and just started taking his time and eating. And if he didn't eat she let him go to bed hungry. My mom was worried he was allergic to milk or some foods so she did watch him carefully to see how he picked at his food but in the end, it all worked out. The other posters have said don't put up with the behavior and I would just add also don't make it a big deal so that there is not too much attention given to the bad behavior. Worked for my family. Good Luck to you.

1 mom found this helpful

K., my middle son was picky like that. don't give it. but as an addition to that i would suggest not giving any foods that are mixed up (soups, casseroles etc) try giving him just some noodles on his plate and a little later give him noodles sprinkled with some shredded cheese. add in the mixtures later. we could give my son rice and broccoli and cheese but if i tried to make a casserole out of it he had a hissy. or i could give him spaghetti with some meatballs on the side but not on top. so it may just be he needs things seperate for a while longer. good luck

Do not give into this behavior. You really need to train him to try foods. If he is not willing to try a new food then just wait it out. Ignore the the crying and fussing and continue to eat your own meal like nothing is wrong. If when he has not tried the item by the time you and your husband have finished, look at him and say, are you not hunger. If he fusses more take the food away and let him down from his high chair and continue to clean up. If he continues to fuss or says I am hungury set him back in his high chair and set the food back in front of him. Explain that he needs to try new foods. That Mom and Dad just ate this for supper and you need to try the Mac & Cheese. If he refusing again take it away with the comment, let me know when you are ready and continue to clean up. If he is really hungry and you are will to wait him out he should give in and be willing to try it.
You have to be very patient, make sure when you tale to him that you come down to his level and talk to him eye-to-eye. If you let him start this now you could end up with quite a battle on your hands.
If the ideas I have given do not work check out this website about neophobia, a fear of new foods. http://www.supernanny.com/Advice/-/Eating/-/Baby-and-todd...

You could rule out other issues, like an allergy (he's gagging in a trained response to how he knows he'll feel when he eats particular foods). Or swallowing issues, by talking to a speech language pathologist. You could also get a referral from your doc to an occupational therapist who specializes in helping picky eaters if he's at risk for nutritional issues.
all the best to you. So frustrating!

I've read the other responses and I must say I have heard it all before. That's not to say don't try their suggestions. THey may work for you. I'll just tell you that they didn't work for me. And this is why: it wasn't important enough to me to have them eat a wide variety of foods because the price I would have to pay is a battle at every meal. I tried with the first one - and I did all the things you are supposed to do: I put out little bits of different things. I hide vegetables in more palatable foods. I refused to feed a child any extra or different dinner. I even tried to prove one child couldn't really tell the difference between the various types of tricolor tortellini by having a blind taste test. That child most certainly could tell the difference btw the three and he didn't want the orange one! I can't tell you how many meals were ruined, how many battles were fought; I even threw a plate out the door once in frustration.

SO you know what? I don't do that anymore. I find the few healthy items the kids will eat and feed them that. THey don't get dessert unless they eat their dinner. I make separate meals for myself and my daughter (hubby is happy with kid food and compartmental plates). It is a real pain in the neck! I have literally forgotten how to cook real food. But when the 5 of us make the effort to sit down for a meal (something that is increasingly difficult to pull off as your kids age), at least we don't fight about the food. I'm not willing to make that sacrifice for the sake of nutrition. (BTW, all 3 kids are perfectly healthy).

Some things in family life are not ideal - and some things about your kids you can't change no matter how many tricks you try. THe key is to figure out what you can live with and what's truly important to you.

Good luck!

He might have a sensory issue that effects his oral motor skills. My son only ate babyfood (stage 3) or food that texture till he was 2, he would gag on anything more chunky. Does your son have a speech delay? Eating and speech problems seem to go together. I did call Early Intervention and had him evaluated. He was diagnosed with Sensory Integration. Now he's 29 mos. and is eating regular table food (tender and diced). He'll eat finger foods like fish sticks, chicken nuggets, sliced hot dogs, bread etc. however he still isn't talking much. It is getting better. You may want to call Early Intervention and have him evaluated (the program is only to age 3) and if he has issues they'll provide a feeding therapist, patholigist, Occupational therapist, whatever he may need. So what I'm trying to say is that it may not be fussy eating but sensory issues. It's worth checking into. Good luck and all the best. Bernie
P.S. When I stopped giving him bland and tasteless foods and started giving him what I was eating (fajita soup, goulash, mild chili) he became interested in food and started liking to eat. Also I do not insist that he eat when he doesn't want to, that worked wonders.

Maybe he has sensory issues? My nephew had exactly the same visceral reaction to new foods when he was your son's age. I know my SIL got him some OT that really helped. Now he's ten years old and his parents can't get him to STOP eating:^)

Good luck!

Like your son I have a very picky 3 year old. I to can remember a time when my son would choose milk over anything else. At one time I would start offering candy and sweets, and he would still refuse insiting that everything that I gave him was "gross". I don't know if this helps but I started to not give him the milk especially the one with the red top because it seemed that he would be more fulled on those days. I think that it started to make him feel that hungry feeling in his belly and it made him want something....of course he probably will expect milk, but geuss what you are the mom and you are the one that knows best for your son or daughter. if you feel that he needs to have a better eating habits then you make the change and stick to it.

I agree to rule out medical reason first. My son was like this come to find out he has sensory processing disorder (at age 2.5 we finally had him evaluated). His sensory system is extremely sensitive particularly in tactile and visual. Tactile I guess is the most common sensory sensitivity. So how that effects eating is, certain types of foods (MANY types of foods) repulse him to look at, much less actually bring to his mouth to taste, much less, chew and digest. It is MANY steps to eat and changes in texture along the way that we do not think about. As a book explained it, asking them to eat these things we see as normal, to them is like putting old, moldy mayonaisse in front of them to eat. To open the jar we would be disgusted, to smell it would repulse us, and to actually taste it, we likely would be gagging. Typical food can be like this to a child with sensory processing difficulties. My son's diet was VERY limited. We FINALLY went through evaluations after talking to the pediatrician about it and after a year now, he is doing SOOO much better. It did mess with his digestive system because his diet was sooo limited. Any amount of "discipline" would not have caused him to broaden his food intake. It only would have made eating a negative terrible experience. His OT REALLY REALLY helped him in so many ways gradually broadening his horizons in food, clothing materials, activiities and social/emotional skills. He used to be terribly overwhealmed by what we see as "normal". I mention all this about our experience because they say it is really common affecting 1 in 30 kids I guess. We still struggle with his sensitive system, but he/we can handle it SOOO much better now! He still does not eat most any noodles/rice, sauce/dip, or casserole, but we have broadened it to where he is pretty much a typical very picky eater :) So, having said all that, next step I'd say would be to talk to your pediatrician, early intervention (gov't program in which therapists come to the house for therapy up to 3 years old), or I know my son's OT office did free evaluations. Let me know if you want me to look up any phone numbers for ya. Best wishes to you and your son! Hopefully it is something he outgrows, but might as well look into it now to get him on the right track sooner rather than later. :)

Hi K.,

One thing we always did with our son at that age was try to distract him when he started getting fussy with food. We would read a story while he was eating. I would empty out all my kitchen utensils - ie spatulas, sifters, potatoe mashers etc. While he was looking at the item I would quick shovel some spoonfuls in. Sometimes he decided he liked it and would continue eating - other times it took several more tries but it did enable him to get used to different tastes and textures. Now at three, he eats what we eat at every meal and I don't have to play short order cook.

Good luck!
H.

He has allergies and a sensory issues, get him to an allergist who believes in patch testing and and OT for the sensory you can even see a feeding specialist however most EI (Early intervention( will give you a speech therapsit and tell you they are a feeding specailist too make sure you find a REALLY good one dont just take any sppeech therapist. I also would consider taking him to a GI , many times the allergies to the food cause the esophagus to swell and be inflamed and the food cant go down you do gag and choke so I highly doubt your 18 month old is making this up he is fussy becasue it does hurt, could be as simple as reflux etc but I would always rule out medical issues first.good luck
J.

I agree that you should rule out medical issues first. 18 months seems early to be willfully gagging and refusing to try foods- especially mac and cheese. My son is almost 2 1/2 and I couldn't see him purposely gagging because he didn't want to try a food. On the other side of it, my daughter does have sensory issues and we didn't actually get the diagnosis until she was 6 (earlier this year). A lot of this behavior was happening and we somehow didn't pick up on it- didn't even know what sensory processing disorders were. She would gag when peaches or bananas were in the same room with her, etc. It's very frustrating, but if that is what is going on and you can start working towards fixing the problem then things will start getting better- it certainly helps to know what you're dealing with. Check with your doctor. We have a great doctor that actually listens to us and now also a great OT that is helping my daughter with her problem. Good luck - if indeed you do need an OT, I can recommend one. K

Hi K., Sorry for the late response to your inquiry. I was just clearing out some emails and came across your situation. I hope you are doing better with your son. If you are still having problems, I have a suggestion to make. My son has similar issues and has sensory issues that only relate to his mouth and smell. Look on the internet for the SOS techniques. They help a child get acquainted with a food. One technique that can help with introducing new foods is to use an "all done" cup. The idea is to take the pressure off your son feeling like he is going to have to eat something he is afraid of. So you give him a cup and ask him to pick up the food and just put it in the cup. He doesn't have to eat it. SHow him what you want him to do by demonstrating. Then you move to having him smell the food and putting it in the cup. Then you have him give the food a kiss and put it in the cup. Then a lick. Then hopefully he will eat the food. You may not get through all the steps. It seems simple but it really worked for us. We still use it when introducing new foods sometimes (my son is almost 4). He almost always moves from putting the food in the cup to kissing to eating pretty quickly. If you are still having issues and want to talk to someone who has been there (and still is there) please feel free to contact me. Good luck, Beth

Hi K.,

My son does the same thing, has all his life, unfortunately he's 10. Some say it's because he is afraid of new foods from a bad experience he had choking on food as an infant (which never happened with me, but maybe with a sitter) some say it's sensory isues, his would be taste, which is more common with babies who were born a little early (mine was 4 weeks early). I've taken him to many therapists. One suggested gving him miniscule pieces of new foods. Think of everything he tries to eat like you eating a food you can't stand. Other's have suggested playing games with new foods like put a grape in his mouth and have hime spit it into a garbage can to "make a basket" (although you son is too young, cut them in half first). There are good food chaining books which suggest taking a food he likes and changing it ever so slightly. Then make more and more changes until it's a new food. I used to have success using cookie cutters to make fun shaped peanut butter sandwiches. The good news is my 10 year old is healthy, very rarely gets sick and seems fine even though he only eats about five foods. Go figure. I only hope one day he grows out of it. Good luck to you! If you need the name of a doctor at Children's who specializes in this let me know. I found her too late for my son because he was just too old to get into playing all the food games. At least you're on top if it early!

My youngest son was like this for a while. He was just extrememly fussy and did not have any allergies or other issues. You might want to check into that to rule those things out first though. For my son, we just kept offering and eventually he grew out of it. It was so bad for a while that even smelling certain things would gag him. For now, just keep it simple and keep trying because eventually he will be ready for more things.

Hi K.,

My son was a gagger around 11 months. He would throw up all his stage 3 food. At first I was concerned that there was a problem, but then realized he never had a problem with anything else, so it must be the texture thing. I can totally understand how people just give up and let their children eat "special" meals or just chicken nuggets and french fries. But i didn't want to have to prepare seperate meals for him, and fortunately he has some "meat" to him, so we offered him what we were eating and if he didn't eat we would supplement in a fruit, yogurt or vege that we knew he would eat (but not too much) and kinda "rode it out". We just decided along with his Dr that when he gets hungry he will eat. And it did work for the most part, he's 13 mos now and he still isn't a great eater like his sister, but it takes time and every child is different. I would also rule out the alergy or disorder thing first, talk to his Dr. The best of luck!

I have a 3 year old now, but she was the same way. It started when I tried any food, baby food, solid foods it didn't matter. She would just gag and sometimes throws up and there were days where she would ate TWO cherrios if that. After I got no help from my peds, my MOM started to give her "shakes". Milk based with bananas, fruit, oatmeal/or rice, avacado, carrot juice. She blends them with whatever we have in stock. To this day my daughter still doesn't eat much solid foods, she asks for her shakes 2 - 4 times a day. She is underweight but quite healthy and active.

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