Posted by: zenmamajo | February 14, 2011

Help! My Child Has Allergies AND is a Picky Eater! (Living with Food & Environmental Allergies Series)

what’s worse than a picky eater? a picky eater with food allergies! if this is you: i feel your pain! i promise it does get better! (it also helps if they have a younger sibling who loves to eat and threatens to eat up all the food before they finish their portion…)

my daughter (5 yrs old) has 5 of the 9 top food allergies: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat. (she is also allergic to oats, which she can tolerate in small quantities). she was allergic to soy but outgrew it (although she occasionally complains it makes her stomach hurt but seems to tolerate it just fine most servings). through skin testing we learned she is also allergic to corn and sesame but she’s never had a problem with these foods so we continue to give them to her. we do avoid fish and shellfish at this time.

her reactions range in severity and include: belly aches, hives, swelling, eczema, suddenly becoming lethargic, sneezing (with *lots* of drainage), teary eyes, sudden onset of coughing, redness that starts at the ears and continues if she remains around the allergen or doesn’t take benedryl (which i only had to do once recently because i decided to give her a bite of egg…bad idea…).

she can now tolerate wheat in small quantities (think ritz crackers or teddy grahams). it use to encourage her eczema to flare up but wheat doesn’t seem to do that these days. she rejects wheat breads/pastas.

the other allergies create a severe reaction so we completely avoid them.

offering healthy meal choices is important in our family. because she has a limited diet, i wanted (nearly) every bite to count to ensure she met the daily vitamin requirements. this was tough in the beginning because she was a (very) picky eater and a complete dawdler during meal times (think 1.5-2hrs nearly every meal because she would pick, dawdle, pick, dawdle!). birthday parties and dinner invitations are still tough but with a little persistence and creativity – it’s possibly for our children to develop healthy eating habits while feeling included.

the plan was pretty simple – cook whole foods and stay away from processed foods as much as possible. (although now our processed food vices are: ritz crackers, occasional hotdogs, and soy nut butter). i kept the meals simple but included lots of vegetables. i kept offering her different items and finally (sometimes after a year or two) her taste buds approved…

don’t be intimidated by the term ‘whole foods’ – i use to think it was very intricate and had to include a lot of specialty items but that isn’t necessary. it can be as simple as a baked chicken, cooked rice, and sautéed spinach. when she was about ready for table foods, i invested in a $10 mini food chopper and blended whatever foods we were having for her (starting with rice/veggies). her first vegetables were collard greens (i’m not a big fan of canned peas or green beans so i don’t usually cook those).

asian food stores are a great resource for buying rice, tapioca, potato flour, vegetables at more affordable prices than the specialty sections at most grocers (sometimes it’s $2-$4 less depending on the item).

our biggest strategies in combating meal-time pickiness were:

– i made sure it was simply pickiness and not allergies…
– offering something she liked with something new
– only offering the least liked item, then after that was eaten i’d put the rest of the meal on the table (sometimes i’d put a veggie on everyone’s plate at lunch and make sure nothing else was in sight, after we ate that item then i’d get the rest of the meal. hungry toddlers seem to eat more readily if there aren’t any other choices in sight…)
– “sneak” the food in to a dish so their taste buds can adjust slowly
– use the food creatively (think bento boxes or even use ketchup/mustard to “drawn a picture” and incorporate the food)
– let the child help prepare the food
– have a contest to see who can eat the most bites
– tell picture stories about how foods fuel our bodies like gas fuels a car
– i rarely offered snacks or “junk food” (including juices) during the picky phases – did not want them filling up on snacks unless it was fruits
– had to eat at least one bite of a new food
– uneaten meals were offered the following meal and some the meal after that (i only had to do this twice…like i said: hungry toddlers are seldom picky…”) then i would offer them whatever i was serving that meal. oh: and i purposely tried to serve things they didn’t like early in the day and something they loved for dinner…
– i tried not to let the resistance/whining get to me. i didn’t get drawn into a verbal joust over them eating or nag them to eat (except in the beginning then i saw it was not effective…). i tried to state the choice they faced (to eat or not) then let them choose.

my 5 yr old is still occasionally picky but eats her food for the most part – her preferences even surprise me sometimes. the creativity and persistence seems to have paid off with her and i’m hoping the same for her three younger siblings!

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