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Ask the Horizons Team: How to support a child with very narrow food choices

Posted Feb 01 2013 6:07am

Ask the Horizons Team: How to support a child with very narrow food choices

February 1, 2013 By Nicole Beurkens, PhD

cashews Question:

I work with a child who is VERY limited in his food.  As of right now he only eats full cashews of the Fleet Farm Brand. (He won’t even eat pieces).  If we try anything else…a different brand or pieces of the same brand, it is a full meltdown and he refuses to eat anything.  Any suggestions on where to go with this?

-Vanessa in Indiana

Answer:

Hi Vanessa,

It can be a challenge to work with children who have these types of rigid feeding patterns. Since I don’t have much information to go on in regards to this child, I can’t make many specific recommendations. My first recommendation is to make sure you have a team of knowledgeable people working with him on this issue, including appropriate medical providers who can support his physical health while working on these issues. Parents will also need education and support to ensure the issue is appropriately supported across environments.

When kids have extremely rigid feeding problems it takes time, attention, and careful scaffolding to help them broaden their diets. You indicated that any change to the food itself causes great distress for this child. Given that, I would start with changes that have nothing to do with the food itself. You can start by making small changes (variations) to the location where the nuts are eaten, the number of nuts put on the table at a time, the containers the nuts are placed in, giving him one and then you eating one, etc. The key is to find the amount of change that he IS able to tolerate, and then make more changes from there. Remember that if a child is completely overwhelmed, fearful, and upset about the change there is no learning that can come from it. To truly help a child become more comfortable with changes surrounding food you need to start with only the amount of change or variation they can tolerate. Hopefully that gives you some ideas to start playing with.

Good Luck,
Dr. Beurkens

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