My Son’s A Picky Eater

By May 18, 2012

My 7 year old boy only likes to eat chips, crackers & candy. He has also been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD and is on Adderal RX. I have a lot of trouble with him because he will not eat any meat, vegetables (except French fries) and most fruits. When I can get him to even try meat, if it gets on his tongue he will gag and then spit it out. I am very frustrated and worried. I have mentioned it to his doctors and therapist and no one seems to think that it is a big deal. I am trying to put him on a high protein diet and I can tell a difference in school when he will drink the protein drinks, but I can not get him to eat meat. Help. – Darlene

Dear Darlene,

You obviously love your son very much and want what’s best for him. He is blessed to have a mother like you, who is willing to spend time researching the internet to find some answers. I’m sorry that none of your son’s health care practitioners have been helpful to you on this issue. You have to live with this every day, so no matter what they think, it’s a big deal to you and your son.

It’s hard enough being a parent and fostering healthful eating under normal circumstances, but you have the added challenge of dealing with ADHD/ADD. First, let me assure you that your son’s desire to eat only chips, crackers and candy is very common in many children in general. Of course as parents, our job isn’t to give in to our children’s wants all the time, but instead to protect and nurture them. So you are right on track in wanting to teach your son to eat healthier, and laying down some boundaries.

That said, we also don’t want to get too controlling when it comes to feeding our children. It can make for miserable mealtimes, as well as set them up for disordered eating patterns. Kids can’t control a lot of things in their lives, but they can exert control over what they choose to eat—or not. I have heard of a lot of children, boys in particular, who will gag and even throw up at the table when forced to take even one bite of something they don’t want. Some children are just very perceptive of any bitter taste in foods. Check out the article “10 Tips for Raising Balanced Eaters” for general advice on keeping food in proper perspective.

One thing I’m not clear about from your letter is whether or not the high protein diet you are trying to put your son on is medically prescribed. The link between ADHD/ADD and nutrition just hasn’t been clearly established in research. (More details can be found here.) I’m wondering if you’ve been influenced by the “carb-phobia” trend that’s been promoted by the media and food manufacturers this past year.  I address this issue in “The Truth About Carbs” and in the article, “The Power of Protein.” Does your son like dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt? How about soy-based foods, nuts or beans? It’s not hard to get ample protein, and it could be that your son doesn’t have a taste for meat because he gets enough protein from other sources. Perhaps he does better in school when he drinks the protein drinks because they are more filling and therefore have more holdover power than his usual breakfast.

I’m guessing that you are seeking more answers, ideas and advice than what I can address in this limited amount of space. I would suggest that you ask your son’s doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian for a consultation—one who is a pediatric specialist, or at least sees a significant number of children in her/his practice. In the meantime, keep offering healthy choices to your son and try preparing foods in different ways, but strive to be relaxed in your approach. I can tell you from personal experience (my own son was a picky eater) that, with time, he will start eating healthier.

Blessings to you and your son,