Fussy Eaters Will Eat When They’re Hungry… Not If It’s My Child!

Kelly Autism, It's a Tink Thing 1 Comment

I’ve just watched a famous TV chef interviewed on the morning TV show he cooks on. I watched it because I like him; he’s witty, charming and easy on the eye. His recipes are good too – good, healthy Italian food that’s not too difficult to cook. Just my sort of thing. Or he was. Until he talked about how fussy eaters are created by ‘stupid parents’.

Really? ‘Stupid’? Ok, Mr. Chef, my child is a ‘fussy eater’ but I’m pretty sure I’m not stupid. I have a degree that kinda backs that up.

I really think you need to do some research and take account of your audience before making sweeping statements like that, as you will have made quite a lot of parents rather angry!

Yes, I’m sure there are some children who are simply ‘fussy’ and it may be that their parents let them be that way for a quiet life. (To be honest, I can’t blame them sometimes!) However, for many parents of children with particular disorders, it’s not just a case of “they’ll eat when they’re hungry.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Chef is not the only person that thinks this way. Worryingly, there are so-called professionals who believe in this course of action to treat children with significant food aversions and sensory issues. Take, for example, Diane, who claims she is a professional working with children and adults with eating disorders and addiction. In a Facebook group dedicated to frugal food spending, she claims that “parents are generally the problem” and that children are controlling their parents by refusing to eat. She, too, claims that children will eat when they’re hungry. And yet she’s worked with children with eating disorders? So, presumably, children who suffer from anorexia – children who will not eat, no matter how hungry. Contradictory much?

The fact is that there are children who will not eat when they’re hungry if the food available does not suit them. There are children with sensory issues, who will only eat crunchy foods, beige foods, orange foods, mashed food. I have a friend whose son is on the autism spectrum and he will eat only toast and weetabix. That’s it. Every meal. Either toast, or weetabix. Although, he did recently add chocolate spread to his diet, so that’s something. No matter how much she tries to coax and cajole him, he simply will not eat anything else, and if his toast or weetabix is not offered, he will not eat.

There is an eating disorder called ‘avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder’, or ‘ARFID‘ for short. Again, this usually relates to the sensory appearance of the food: taste, smell, colour, texture…  Nothing to do with wanting to eat, or eating when hungry. Sufferers cannot eat if the food is abhorrent to their senses. No amount of bribery or starvation will work here, and the sufferer will just become more and more ill, leading to admission to hospital to be tube fed.

So, no, some children will not eat when they’re hungry, because it hurts, or it makes them sick, or there is just a bloody big buzzer going off in their head, screaming, “NO! NO! NO!”

Tink is something of a fussy eater. Yes, I ‘pander’ to her; I’ll make her a separate meal if I know whatever the rest of us are having will go uneaten. I don’t want her to starve and she would, if I stuck to my guns and denied her anything except what she’s given, whether she likes it or not. Tink doesn’t like softer, mushy foods and she’s quite fond of the beige. There’s a definite uniformity to her foods; she likes fish fingers and sausages, pasta, rice, bread, and meat. There’s just too much potential variation in other foods. For example, potatoes can be mashed or roasted, baked or chipped. She won’t eat any of it (knowingly – I can try to be a bit sneaky, but she usually susses me out!).  We have no chance with fruit or vegetables. Breakfast every morning is a specific type of chocolate cereal. If I buy the wrong one, or offer a different type, she simply won’t eat it. End of. She wasn’t always this way; as a baby she’d eat most things, so it’s not as if we’ve never given it to her.

I don’t know why I bother trying with fast food places now. She won’t eat the fish fingers any more and she just nibbles the crispy ends off the fries before spitting them out!

I totally agree that children can be ‘fussy’ and, with lots of patience and encouragement, new foods can be introduced gradually. This is the same for some children with eating disorders and sensory issues. We are slowly trying to introduce Tink to the idea of trying new things. Incredibly slowly. I don’t even know if it will work, but I’ll give it a good try. But there are, quite simply, some children who, no matter how slow and patient we are with them, will never try anything but the familiar. They will starve if they are denied the only foods they will eat.

Tink, eating her dinner with our ‘learning plate’ in view. We put foods she doesn’t usually eat on the plate to begin to desensitise her to them.

Please, uninformed professionals and TV chefs, do not tar all children with the same ‘fussy’ brush. Do some real research. Offer genuine help and advice, not harmful, flippant comments about ‘stupid’ parents and how “they won’t starve themselves.” Comments such as this are extremely damaging. We are not parents making excuses, we are parents more often than not, in despair and ill with worry about our children’s diets. In cases like this, as one parent puts it, “tough love is not the answer.”

Kelly is a mother of two – her son H and daughter Tink. H is home educated, Tink is autistic. Kelly is a self-employed Virtual Assistant… Life is busy!

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*eye roll to the chef* People are very uneducated when it co!es to sensory needs, I feel like its one of those ” if y don’t live with it you don’t have a clue about it” which is sad considering so many people suffer with sensory difficulties. Both mine have sensory disorders and autism. As you know my daughter will only eat Tesco German salami ( folds a slice I half takes a bite, throws the rest) , hummus if served in a mini pot and breadsticks ( breadsticks don’t often get eaten, they’re usually just a spoon for the… Read more »