DSS(9) and his fussy eating(14 Posts)
DP and I have DSS every Saturday, and every other weekend he stays over from Friday through to Sunday. I've known him since he was about 3, and throughout that time he's always been an extremely fussy eater. We have only been having him to stay overnight for the past 2 years
due to his nightmare mother and when he first started to stay with us his mum gave us a list of foods he liked, which consists of about 10 things, very few of which make up a particularly good meal. For example, he likes hotdogs (but not the buns), rice, gammon (specifically in a honey glaze), southern fried style chicken pieces, alphabet letter chips (but not potato waffles or chips!!), tomato soup, fish fingers, carrots, swede, sweetcorn (tinned not frozen). That is pretty much it. It means that on the weekends we have him to stay I have been very limited on what I can cook unless I cook something different for him and for DP,DS(21m) and I.
We've been trying to get him to expand his range but he is so resistant. He either gets upset and cries at the table (not because we're telling him off or anything, but just because he doesn't like the look of something), or just doesn't eat it and accepts that he won't get anything else. It never seems to bother him that he doesn't have much to eat. He's very thin, and its been noted at school that he doesn't have much in his lunch box.
DP is of the opinion that enough is enough and we should start taking the hard line and he gets what he's given, whether he likes it and is willing to try it or not. If he doesn't eat it then tough. While I'm not dead against this I do find it hard to manage when we have him for so little time and we have no control or even visibility of what goes on when he's with his Mum. I worry about the inconsistency, and also I don't want DSS to feel like he doesn't want to be here because of it.
So I was wondering whether anyone had any advice at all? My son is just a toddler, so i have no experience of 9 year old boys! I find it difficult to understand how he is still so fussy at this age, it seems to me that it's more of a control thing. Or am I being harsh and unsympathetic?
Any suggestions gratefully received!
I would say it was a control thing and a symptom of other things going on in his life, he doesn't have control there but he can control what he eats.
It is very difficult when you don't have him very often.
Could you get him interested in the cooking? If he cooks it he might eat it.
Have you tried really wearing him out- DH taking him on a really long walk or cycle ride?
Any chance of talking it over with his mother and having a joint strategy?
If it's been noted by others that DSS is very thin, your dp's plan is going to backfire spectacularly. If he isn't bothered by a lack of food, then this plan really isn't going to do much, other than cause even more upset.
Does your DSS ever feel hungry? I ask because one problem I have with my own ds (12yrs) is that he doesn't feel hunger. If he isn't reminded about eating, he will happily go all day without anything.
It's entirely possible that this isn't about control at all. Some children struggle to eat things that aren't of a particular texture or consistency. The limited amount of food in his school lunchbox may well be because his mother is all too aware that her ds just won't eat anything else.
Genuine food issues won't be solved by tackling things head-on like this. My own ds is very slowly starting to increase his range of foods but it has taken several years to reach this point.
What is DSS like if you take him out to eat somewhere? Some of our biggest successes have been things that ds has tried elsewhere and has then been keener to have at home.
Ds has also been slightly more open to tasting something when he's cooked it himself, although this isn't always guaranteed to be successful if it's the wrong kind of food.
I think that because you only have him occasionally, and he is very thin, you can't do the take it or go without route.
At 9yrs I would be inclined to let DH take him out for the day- in the fresh air- do a seriously long walk and then out for a meal so that he has to choose from the menu and he will be really hungry.
Worth a try at least once anyway.
At 9 yrs he is also old enough to choose a recipe and cook it himself with some supervision.
I have a 4 year old that doesn't eat unless we push him to. It's not that he's particularly fussy, he's just not interested in food. He neatly stacked up his Easter eggs in his bedroom this year and still hasn't touched them!
I'm not sure the 'take it or go without' line is feasible on that level of contact. It might work on the long weekends I guess but it might also make your DSS dread coming. We have a 'you only get pudding if you clear (or nearly clear) your plate' rule, not that different but it's an incentive more than a threat.
Exotics suggestions of lots of physical exercise followed by taking him out for a meal (somewhere that doesn't offer his 'favourites') are good. Then maybe try and replicate his chosen dish in the kitchen with him at home.
The list of foods his Mum has given you would drive me insane!
An alternative to the day out with Dad is that you could all have a day out with a picnic. Wear him out- running, football etc and serve the picnic with plenty of choice but none of the things on the list. Put it all in the middle a d let him help himself. Don't make sandwiches- have bread and butter separately with things like cheese so he can put his own together - even silly things like a crisp sandwich.
Swimming is good for working up an appetite - try that with a picnic.
Try letting him make his own milkshakes - use fruit and whizz up.
You can get all sorts into soup. My DS was fussy about vegetables but liked tomato soup so I used to liquidise lots of things in small quantities but lots of tomatoes - if he is very fussy you can even add a tin of tomato soup- when my DS asked suspiciously what it was I was able to say tomato soup.
Make and decorate his own pizza.
In the summer use a BBQ and let him cook his own.
Since you don't see him often I wouldn't make food an issue. I would do 3 routes- cunning,involvement and fun and physically getting him to use up energy so he actually needs fuel for the body.
That list of food would drive me insane too! I couldn't stick to it.
Hello all - thanks so much for the replies, and sorry for disappearing after starting the thread!
Yes, he does definitely get hungry, and will ask for food when he is. There are some days where he'll eat a few bowls of cereal in the morning for breakfast, for example! (amazingly, he likes Fruit & Fibre, among other relatively healthy cereals!).
Eating out is something that has caused us quite a lot of stress, as pretty much always we simply get a turned up nose at the menu, no matter where we are. If we're "lucky" enough for him to have found something on the menu like chicken nuggets and chips, for example, he might eat some of the chicken, but will only eat perhaps a single bite of the chips, under duress. We usually try and go through the whole menu with him and talk about what is on there, and see what he might like, describing things that he might not be familiar with to see if we can drum up a little bit of enthusiasm, or even curiosity. Sometimes he will agree to try something new, but I'd say 95% of the time he will decide after one bite he doesn't like it. It always makes me nervous going out, as I worry that he's not going to eat anything. We don't do it that often, as he's never that keen. I find it such a shame, as it was one of life's little pleasures when I was kid, going somewhere like Pizza Hut or whatever for dinner - we used to get so excited!
Thanks for the cooking suggestion - I have just started on the trying to get him to cook with me. He has baked cakes and cookies with me before, and he genuinely seemed to enjoy doing that, so I bought him a cookbook and we all looked through it to see if he fancied any of the recipes in there. He picked out a few things (as well as a load of sweet stuff!), so the for the weekend just gone I bought the ingredients for one of the things he picked. When I mentioned it to him at breakfast on saturday morning he shook his head vigorously at the suggestion.  He almost looked afraid of the idea! I think I will stick at this one for a while though, as I reckon there could definitely be some mileage.
Tiring him out is also a great suggestion! We do have some other issues there too... That's a whole other thread really, but essentially he is incredibly averse to going out and doing anything - he just doesn't seem to have any excitement for the world sometimes (which again makes me very sad!). He loves computer games, and while I don't have a problem with that in itself obviously we can't let him play those all day! We do drag him out for activities as much as possible, usually with the cousins so he has some company other than my nearly 2yo DS, to get some fresh air and exercise, but although he does seem to enjoy it while he's actually out, he always tells us how much he didn't enjoy it when we talk about it later. We do persevere at that though - sitting in the house all day every time we have him isn't an option, and we've made that very clear. We do get a fair amount of tears and sulking at the thought of it though. <sigh>
I'm sorry if perhaps I've drip fed a bit here, I didn't mean to. He's a very sensitive boy, and I find it really hard to judge things with him at times as I have so little clue about what things are like at home with his mum!
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply - I have plenty to think about and to talk with DP about. I am inclined to agree with many of you on the "get what you're given or don't eat" approach, however, I need to come up with something as what we're doing now isn't really sustainable!
He sounds like my stepchildren.
They would be happy sitting on the sofa from Friday to Sunday.
They aren't really interested in anything (except spending money!). It's an effort to get them out then they constantly want to be bought things when we do go out so its very stressful.
They are fussy eaters too so I just cook the few meals they do like every other weekend and say no pudding / sweets if they don't eat it. When they are here for a week or two I cook what we eat and tell them to eat what they can or be hungry!
You have to pick your battles sometimes and I'm afraid the food situation has me beaten
They are hard work!!!
To be honest, I think that if the great majority of his time is at his mum's then you are on a hiding to nothing trying to change these ingrained eating habits. Some kids this age just are very unadventurous eaters, but his reluctance to even try stuff and his anxiety about it suggests that he has some other issues going on. My approach would be to try to ignore, ignore, ignore - and I honestly do know how hard that is.
What is so much more important is that he enjoys his time with you. I would try to make sure that there is always food on his list of favourites on his plate, along with other stuff, but if he doesn't try the other stuff then so be it. My fussy eater regularly gets presented with stuff he doesn't like. He doesn't eat it, he fills up later on bread and fruit. Equally, he doesn't moan or make a fuss and I do ask him to try a taste. Then the next day I do a meal that I know he will eat all of. But he lives here all the time and there isn't the complication of the two homes and two sets of rules.
Your little boy sounds quite anxious and I think it is more important to decrease the anxiety than to get him to eat differently.
I would live with it, trying to get him to change his eating habits when he's only with you some of the time is a losing battle. I wouldn't worry about him being thin either, that's probably just genetic, he'll be getting enough food believe me, no fussy eater has died of starvation. My daughter was terrible and my mother didn't help the situation, she grew out of it, I'm sure he will too.
You could take him out for the morning, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and then go to a buffet and let him choose.
Also, Could you invite some kids for lunch who are good eaters?
Why don't you go swimming as a family to a fun pool with slides etc and really expend some energy (your baby will love it) and then see whether he is hungry?
Wow, i could have written your post a few years ago OP! Both DSDs were extremely fussy and nobody quite understood just how fussy. It meant, for example, that when my family (mum, dad, sisters etc) had barbecues in the summer and invited us, DSDs wouldn't eat anything. It got so we were very limited where we could go to eat. My DSDs ate only smiley face potato waffle things, chicken nuggets and beans. No fruit (not a thing, i kid you not), no veg (again, nothing - not even a kernel of sweetcorn), no roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, my DH's homemade mash was "too lumpy" etc. Eldest DSD would not even try new food - just completely refused. Youngest DSD did occasionally try things and wasn't quite as frustrating. Neither of them even tried a Yorkshire pudding until they were well into their teens and i thought that everybody likes Yorkshire puds!
Looking back, it was extremely trying for all of us - i resented being so limited with choice at weekends, DH got frustrated, DSDs got tearful, mealtimes were horrible. In the end we caved and just gave them what they wanted. Their mum too provided a 'list' of food they would and would not eat. We found that whatever effort we were putting in to try to get them to eat healthily and a bigger variety, their mum was undoing by indulging them with smiley faces, pre-packed freezer crap and gimmicks. So we thought, why have a battle we're going to lose?
Our time with them was too precious to spoil by seeing them and us unhappy. We wanted them to enjoy their time with us, not feel it was a chore. People used to advise us to put something in front of them and they'd eat if they were hungry. But on a couple of occasions we did that they went home and told their mum they were hungry because they'd eaten nothing and it ended up in a big spat between DH and their mum and we ended up feeling lke utter bastards.
We found maybe one or two options that were a bit better for the whole family (pasta for example) and stuck to those. If we went to other people's houses (my family) they knew how much we struggled and were very accommodating and always got something in that they would eat. I will love them forever for their understanding.
A large part of it was about control and unhappiness i am sure. They felt torn and were both mummy's girls - they felt disloyal for trying/ liking our food, which wasn't the way mummy cooked it. Their mum is very controlling too and guilt trips were a large part of their lives.
Eldest DSD still has very plain tastes - no sauces, still doesn't eat fruit, very little veg etc. Youngest (now 13, but was 3 when i met her for the first time) is now much, much better. We can take her pretty much anywhere and she'll find something that she'll eat. She's also a very happy, well adjusted, affectionate, normal teenage girl who has suffered no long term damage!
The worse thing we ever did was have the battles. It made us all miserable and we weren't going to win. If we had that time again we'd have caved in much, much sooner.
Anyway, as soon as we stopped making a big deal of it, things improved a bit and it made for a much happier house.
Thank you all so much for your comments and suggestions - what a helpful board this is! (First time I've posted in here, I'm sure not the last though). I'm going to show this thread to DP tonight to see what he thinks too.
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