This week we are featuring a guest blog post written by our staff member, Sherilyn.  Sherilyn is a mum of two boys (nearly 13 and 11) who are both on the Autism Spectrum.  Both her sons have very high sensory issues when it comes to food (both seeking and avoiding sensory input), and her youngest son heavily struggles with severe anxiety around food, to the point where he will mostly only eat hard and crunchy textured foods and foods that he knows where they have come from because he gets very brand specific.  So we thought who better to talk about this topic than Sherilyn who is all over it!

Hey guys, I am so excited to bring you this week’s post given I have lived and breathed this issue for over a decade now, but I think it’s a topic that we can all relate to in one way or another.  So let’s dive in!

We’ve all been there… you make a delicious meal that you’ve slaved over in the kitchen for hours and you’re so proud to share this plate of love with your family only for the kids to totally refuse it.

But then along the way you stumble upon a food that your child laps up and wants over and over again, and of course you feed it to them because #winning they are finally eating and enjoying something. And then the tables turn and they refuse to eat it again 😣

Cooking for fussy kids can be an excruciating experience for everyone involved. But are they just being fussy or is something else at play?

Consider this… for children, eating is a wholly sensory experience. We know that as adults we eat with our eyes first before anything goes into our mouths.  Kids are exactly the same except with a heightened perception of what they think they will like or won’t like, even if they have never tasted it.

A child will analyse food for its shape, colour, taste, texture and temperature first and if anything seems not right, then it can quite often be a no-go zone.  Or maybe you’ve got a child who is not only sensory sensitive to food but is also brand-specific about foods too and won’t try other brands in case they’re ‘different’ #thestruggleisreal

So let’s delve into it to give you a better understanding of what may be going on.

Food fatigue (technically called ‘food jags’)

What exactly are they?

Food Jags are when a child eats the same food, made the same way, over and over.

So what’s the problem with that?

The reality is that kids will get sick of these foods and will most likely start refusing to eat them.

How do you know if it’s happening?

Your child can:

✚ Cough
✚ Gag
✚ Turn their head away
✚ Push the food away
✚ Put their hands over their mouths so no food can get in
✚ Lash out at parents
✚ Wriggle around to get away from the food
✚ Completely shut down to the world around them
✚ Refuse to eat

This essentially is a flight or fight response.  If your child displays any of the above, then don’t expect them to eat those foods.  Just like adults, kids aren’t going to like all foods offered to them.  It’s up to us to figure out our child’s tastes and preferences when it comes to food and work from there.

Emotions and Food

For most kids up to the developmental age of 2 1/2, their response to food is a reflex.  Negativity around food simply hasn’t been developed by that age.

However, at around 2 1/2 kids start to worry about food.  For example, if a certain food made them feel bad the last time they ate it, they worry that it may make them feel bad again.  Anxiety can then develop and when a child (or adult) is anxious, the blood rushes away from their stomachs and flows to their brain, heart and lungs which, in turn, then diminishes their appetite.  And as we all know, if we don’t feel hungry then we don’t eat, so in these instances, mealtimes can be over before they’ve even started.

Some advice from one mum to another…

✚ Offer new foods every second day so that there is a break in between allowing for and variety in the foods being eaten.

✚ If your child eats a restricted diet of 10 foods or less, then change the shape, colour, taste, texture or temperature.  Just be careful to make the change big enough so that your child will notice, but small enough that your child will still eat the food anyway.

✚ If your child becomes brand specific, try as much as possible to remove foods from their packaging without your child seeing and mix up brands where possible.  This will ensure that your child will no longer recognise what brand of food it is.

✚ Build trust with your child when it comes to food so that if things change your child will be comfortable with that.

✚ Take the focus off eating and instead focus on fun, play and tolerance of even just allowing that specific food to be on your child’s plate.

✚ Be the example of what you want your child to eat.  Children often model their parents so if they see you eating a variety of healthy foods then they are more likely to try them too.

✚ If your child simply won’t eat a certain food, then be ok with them just touching or smelling it instead, this will allow them to build a tolerance level for that specific food.

✚ Kids need to know that it is ok to say no to foods and that they won’t get in trouble for it.

✚ Use positive language around food and talk about food at the dinner table.  Talk about how it smells, tastes, feels and looks.

✚ Be patient.  We get that it can be frustrating when your child won’t eat, but by looking at the root cause of why they won’t, then you will have a better understanding.

By doing all these things you will help to alleviate your child’s anxiety around mealtimes, thus creating an environment where your child may be more likely to give foods a try.

Additive-Free foods

As parents, we all do the best we can to give our kids a balanced diet.  I believe that wherever possible it is best to feed kids an additive-free diet so that you can be assured that their behaviours, moods and health aren’t being affected by the chemicals in processed foods.

Additives and preservatives can play a massive part so it’s always best to be as well informed as possible so that you can recognise if your child’s behaviours are being affected by additives and preservatives.

If you want to learn more about what chemicals are in your foods, how they affect you and how you can avoid them, then I recommend you register your interest or join the next round of Jo and Tracey’s e-course, Additive-Free Made Easy where you will learn all this information and more.  I did this course a few years ago now and it was utterly mind-blowing 🤯.  Whilst it definitely took time to implement the changes and simple swaps with my boys, it has been totally worth it because now I am empowered to know what foods to avoid and what I can switch things out to and in the process, their health has benefited for it as has mine and my husband’s health.  Knowledge really is power!

Register here >>>

Sherilyn ❤️