Monday, February 6, 2012

"I'm sorry, this apple has too much taste."

Moving here from England meant new food, and it also meant losing school dinners. This was not a problem for my middle son, who is hyposensitive to taste and will eat almost anything. Actually, that's not strictly true. In recent months he has developed strong aversions to food that he considers he is eating too often, like lentils, when I was trying to use up the lentils before leaving England, and potatoes, this week when I have a huge sack of potatoes that will go off if we don't use them. If we suddenly had a glut of sweeties and chocolate, no doubt he would take a militant dislike to them too. But packed lunches are pretty manageable. The introduction of packed lunches, however, is a complete nightmare for my oldest, who has very pronounced and eccentric food preferences that change with the wind.

We've done a lot of work on this and now he will try most things, he will eat cooked food well as long as he understands what is in the recipe. But snacks are still difficult. We have near-daily conversations of this kind:
"Can I have some bread and jam? No margarine. Or butter."
"Sure. Here. No butter or margarine."
(intake of breath) "You CAN'T give me bread with that jam on it, you know I don't like it!"
"But you liked it yesterday. You wanted more."
"You know I hate it! You did it on purpose! It is HORRIBLE!"
"Er - "

He is also hypersensitive to smell and taste. This has caused chaos since moving from England. "I can't eat this! It has fish in it!" I look, bewildered, at the shepherd's pie. "No it doesn't. Eat up." There are tears, pleadings, tantrums. Both my husband and I lose our temper. Then, at the end of the meal, I check the bottle of Worcester sauce: and he is right, the New Zealand version has a slightly higher concentration of anchovies than in the UK. Sigh. Parenting FAIL. And there were the apples, the blasted apples. "I don't like these, they taste too appley. Like tomatoes." (He doesn't like tomatoes). "But they are apples." "But in England apples taste normal." Yes, son, we are now living in a country where food has not been processed to death, where the fruit still tastes of fruit. Get used to it. And yes, that is Basmati rice cooked in a proper rice cooker, it is the same rice you had in England it just tastes nicer now. No, I'm not making it in a saucepan especially for you. Get used to it, kid. "Can I have a carrot instead?"

This hypersensitivity meant that packed lunches in the UK were disastrous. "I don't WANT this lunch, the lunchbox smells funny. It had fish in it." Yes, his brother used it for tuna sandwiches last week. "You give me HORRIBLE cheese. I threw it away." "It's the same cheese as yesterday." "No, it tastes of ham." I look in the fridge. Yup, he's right, the cheese has been next to the ham. So I wilted somewhat at the idea that we were going to need to provide him with a school lunch. I looked at some websites for inspiration. "Healthy lunches your child won't refuse," they proclaimed. I looked at the list of ingredients - tuna, tomato - and clicked away sharpish. They look like the sort of articles I would have written in the days before I had children, when I genuinely believed that picky eaters only happened to parents who didn't bother to cook fresh food. (And I believed that all a child needed was firmness, that traditional parenting was the best, and that labels like ADHD etc were part of a medical conspiracy. Hey ho).

But two things have happened to give me hope. One is that the local shopping mall has a Sunday evening market which is basically an international food fair. My son is gradually getting quite proud of his hypersensitive palate, and we are seizing the opportunity to get him to try new foods. Last Sunday he went down to the market with me and had a Chinese sausage. It looked like a dog turd on a stick to me but he thought it was great. He will now eat almost anything if it has soy sauce on it. This has to be worth something. Can one make jam sandwiches with soy sauce?

The other great thing that has helped us is that we are now living in a place that sells cheap biltong (the South African dried meat snack about which I have raved before on this blog, no it is NOT like Beef Jerky, Beef Jerky is HORRIBLE, don't make me eat that stuff and pretend it is biltong, it is DISGUSTING, hmm I wonder where my eldest gets his food issues from). We have agreed that he will have biltong in his lunchbox every day. That way, whatever else he eats or doesn't eat, I know he will get a bit of protein and he will know there is something he really likes. "Except for the fat bits, Mummy. You can't give me the fat bits." All right, I give in, I'll cut off the fat bits. I have even managed, somehow, to stop myself from snacking on it, to save it for his lunches and keep it in the fridge and off my hips. Now let's just hope that biltong doesn't pick up other flavours in the fridge...


  1. Yes I love those websites and oh so helpful articles. Every. Single. One. of them will have tomotoes in it. Or cheese. Or both. What to do if your child thinks tomatoes or cheese are poison? I've been concentrating on sons aversion to textures. I wonder now if he has taste sensitivity he's just not articulating? I'm going to look closely at what I put next to things like the cheese in the fridge. If that saves me from the next 'THAT IS DISGUSTING' conversation, over something he had loved the day before, I will LOVE you forever. Seriously. I will build a shrine and worship you as a goddess.

  2. Ladies, I think we need to write our own book on parenting the real way. What to do with picky eaters, highly emotional girls, kids who do/don't sleep in mornings/evenings, sibling issues, etc. Who is with me?

  3. Also, school lunches will get easier, I promise, when you've been doing them for a while. We have a tried & tested formula, and only vary it occasionally. Always: a sandwich (4 days a week it's bread & butter, 1 day it's healthy nutella - the health-food version which is high in protein & low in sugar), a veg (3 days out of 5, it's carrot sticks), a fruit (varies depending on season), a protein (mine won't have her protein in the sandwich) - sometimes left-over roast meat or sausage; usually a couple of slices of deli meat (ham or turkey or salami), sometimes cheese, sometimes (1-2 times a week) a "treat" - eg, a cookie if we've done some baking. We don't worry about varying things too much - that's what dinner is for, and after-school snack. It's just about getting her enough fuel to be able to last until school is over.

  4. That's very helpful LM. I am trying to start by making lots of diferent things on the grounds that if DS gets set in his ways, well, obviously, it will be dreadful to try to change them. We shall see...

  5. Son will eat just one of three options in a packed lunch, and one of two options with a couple of slight variations for dinner. And this is a huge improvement on what he was like when the whole food phobia (as I think it is) set in. I'm just happy when I get a new food into his diet. Last year it was carrots. My only choices are whether I get to cook him penne pasta or fusili pasta, or whether the mash potato has chopped cabbage in it or not.

  6. Sorry that wasn't very helpful for you C! I was on a school trip yesterday and feeling food envy watching all the other children tucking into their varied packed lunches.

  7. (head hits floor at the thought of penne versus fusilli pasta).

    That is really tough on you, G. I remember talking about this a year ago. Does he take packed lunches then, or is he getting school dinners?

  8. I've finally given up on the school dinners. We stuck it out for a long time, but it was at the point where I was paying full money for him to eat bread and a yoghurt. Although the lunch lady told me he did eat a pot of jelly quite recently (this was a HUGE event as that is that 'slimy' texture is the one he absolutely loathes and he won't even eat jelly like sweets). We tried everything, and so did the staff.

    Dinner every night is either pasta (plain) with brocolli and carrots, or mashed potato with brocolli and carrots. He'll quite happily eat his mash with chopped cabbage in it, or other green bits, as long as they're chopped finely and the same with his pasta. He does like dark green vegetables, but finds the leafy ones too slimy for him when they're cooked.

    The only strong flavour he likes is garlic, and he's eaten quite garlicy things in the past. However when we go out we've stopped ordering Spag Bol for him as too often there's too much tomato sauce, and he just can't eat that.

    He's off all meat now (thanks to me letting him watch countryfile and discovering that we eat real animals) except white chicken breast, and the chicken thighs they do at school (which I'll have to get the recipe for now!). He loves fish.

    For lunch he'll eat a plain roll (no butter, dear lord NO butter) or a jam sandwich (no butter, dear lord NO butter), or a pasta pot. But no sweetcorn (dear lord NO sweetcorn).

    I put a lot of food into his mash, such as cooked split yellow peas. I don't hide it though - I tell him what is in there before he eats, but reassure that it is a texture and taste that he likes. I've tried to put things like butter beans in there but they don't always mash up enough. He'd probably love butter beans but the outside is too slimy for him to try.

    Now that we've got carrots in there I just have to find something else we can introduce and see if I can get it into his diet. Looking around for something suitable at the moment. Preferably something that will make my life easier!

    Will look to see if I can get this high protein healthy Nutella that LM mentioned. Worth it if he likes it, and it isn't full of sugar. The jam I get is the kind made without sugar.

  9. oh and he quite likes herbs, paticularly rosemary and thyme. I do him chips now and again cooked in the oven with olive oil (another strong flavour he doesn't mind) sprinkled with rosemary. I can't do this too often unfortunately as chips aren't a food he really likes that much. But it is a major plus that he doesn't mind bits of 'leaf' in his food and I exploit that as much as I can.

    Pesto doesn't work unfortunately. Only the very tiniest teeniest amount amount as the flavour is quite strong, and also he finds the pily texture a bit slimy when I use too much. For the same reason I can't toss the pasta in butter (no butter DEAR LORD no butter) or oil.

  10. Sheez, Gipsy, that really is restricted. I am so glad you manage to get stuff like chicken and yellow split peas into his diet. How does he find red lentils in the mash? They are very nutritious and not too slimy I think.

  11. the red ones are just a bit stronger in flavour than the yellow split peas. Tried once and not a success. Will try again. As we get older, our taste buds start to get less effective.

    I remember with such fondness the 15 month old child I used to feed ANYTHING. I actually feel grief for the days when a favourite snack/lunch for him was mackerel on wholemeal bagel with cucumber and slices of mango for dessert.

    That Christmas when he ate an entire Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding with custard, followed by two bowls of Arctic Roll!

    I also forgot to mention that his food has to be pretty much stone cold before he will eat it. Including chips - especially MacDonalds fries. He does like to go to McD's now as a 'treat' but I have to ask for a Hamburger meal, with the meat seperate please, and NOTHING on the bun. It can take a few goes to get it right. If we're in a rush I just wrap the chips up and he eats them later (like on the way home).

    But really it isn't so horribly restricted. He will eat Cheerios or Weetabix for breakfast, and he'll eat apples and bananas. He'll also eat plain noodles, if we go for chinese. Italian is OK as we can ask for plain pasta. He gets really excited when we go somewhere that has a BBQ as he LOVES the buns they use!

    I know that a lot of people, including friends that have known us for a while, feel that I'm just too lax or something. They always spout stuff like well we always made sure that the kids ate what we did, and that they had a really varied diet right from the time they were weaned. Because I didn't? Sheesh until they're 2 years old you don't know if you've got a restrictive eater or not. Before that he ate everything, and helped himself to most of the food off my plate. There wasn't any food he wasn't happy to eat at least once, and more than once I found him fishing stuff out of the rubbish bin and eating it yuck. Then one day the switch was flicked.

    It is hard to explain to people. It is like the food is poison to him. He just won't even SEE it as food. He'll sit there and starve with a table full of food in front of him because there's nothing to eat as far as he can see.

    One thing that makes me feel better is that there's another boy in his class who is a restricted eater too. Worse perhaps than son! Yes that's possible :) But he has an older brother who isn't fussy at all, so it is good to see for sure what I already knew - when it comes to soemthing this extreme it really is down to the child not the parenting.

    Also the other reason I know that it isn't just me being lax is that his food issues extend to food that he'd probably normally like, such as sweets. He won't even touch chocolate or sweets that have caramel in them for example (too slimey). I can eat a Wispa Gold in front of him and he won't even get upset because as far as he's concerned it just isn't food.

  12. Hi, a quick one (as it's late) but just to say as I recieved a Liebster Blog Award today I am passing the award to you as I really enjoy your blog, if you'd like to take part and spread some blog love :-)

  13. Thank you so much! Just seen this. It's late here too but I will respond tomorrow. Thank you, it is very heartening :-)