Saturday, 28 February 2015

Should I hide vegetables in my child's food?

This is probably the question asked the most in my picky eaters group. Parents are often terrified that because their child won't eat vegetables they will be really unhealthy or even become ill. They are often so terrified of the concept of a child that doesn't eat vegetables that they consider trying to hide them in their child's food.

If you are in the UK like me, you might have seen a government sponsored advert advocating the hiding of vegetables in a pasta sauce in order to trick children into eating them. I can honestly say that had this been done to me, I would have never eaten pasta sauce again. Actually I never ate any sort of pasta sauce until my late teens, but that's not the point here. The point is that I would have known that the vegetables were there, no matter how well hidden mum thought they were, and it would have made me unable to eat the sauce again as I would always associate it with having the veg in. or worse it would have made me not trust my mother promising me that there were none there this time round because she would have lied about it the first time.

For picky eaters like me, trusting the people preparing your food is a huge deal. A really huge deal.

Anyway back to the original question, the answer depends on if you think your child is just being fussy the way a lot of children are, or if you think your child has selective eating disorder like me. If your child is just being fussy as a phase that a lot of children go through then you might be able to hide vegetables in their food and they might eat them without noticing them, or even if they do notice them they are unlikely to be traumatised by the experience. However if your child has selective eating disorder, they will absolutely find the hidden vegetables, refuse to eat them (and probably never eat whatever you hid them in again either) and possibly be traumatised by the experience. Their trust in your ability to prepare their food in a way that is safe for them, without tricking them will likely be severely damaged too.

I guess the natural follow up question is how do you tell if your child is just going through a fussy phase or if they have an actual problem with food? This question is near impossible to answer I am afraid, but I can tell you about some traits most of us with selective eating disorder have or had as a child which might help you tell the difference.

Most of us exclude whole food groups rather than just one or two particular foods. The most common seem to be fruits, vegetables and seafood. Its as if these food groups are excluded on some sort of principle rather than because of a genuine dislike for the foods in question. We also don't need to taste a food to know we don't like it, I cant explain it and I have no idea why but every picky eater I have ever met has a long list of foods that they have never tasted but simply find offensive for some reason.

I could never imagine putting seafood in my mouth, and I have lived beside the sea my whole life until two years ago. I have seen the fishing boats going to catch the stuff, I have even helped prepare it (yes I know how to gut a fish). I have heard tourists go on and on about how wonderful this fresh seafood is and how much better it tastes than the stuff you get in the city. To me it just isn't food, even with all this knowledge about how great it is. Shellfish in particular are a problem for me, it all looks so slimy and squishy it just doesn't look like something I would want to eat. Although I have eaten the occasional piece of fish in my life I have never eaten a shellfish and I highly doubt I ever will.

Another strange thing is that although I can eat fish (I really prefer not to though) I could never eat a fish I had caught myself or that I had seen being caught. That's why I stopped going fishing as a teenager. My friends and I used to go fishing every weekend, its just one of those things kids do when you grow up by the sea but I never took any of my fish home. If they were still alive I put them back in the water if not I gave them to one of my friends to take home. I guess its something to do with seeing the fish as a fish, rather than as food.

The smell of some foods bothers some of us, some people can't be in the same room as certain foods. Personally the only food I cant stand the smell of is cabbage and I actually think that has a lot more to do with my mother's complete love of the stuff than my eating disorder. Growing up my house often smelled of cabbage when I came home from school - mum was a big fan of the cabbage soup diet. However many people with selective eating disorder have a whole range of foods they simply can't stand to smell.

I guess if you are trying to figure out if your child is just being fussy or if there might be more to it you have to use your best judgement and try and decide what your child's attitude towards food are. A child with selective eating disorder will have a real aversion to certain food groups and refuse point blank to even try them, no matter how much you beg or even bribe them. They might also get quite upset by the idea of eating certain foods or even having some foods near them. Characteristically selective eaters will tell you they don't like foods without even tasting them.

I am not a parent so I do not feel like I have the right to advise parents on how to raise their children but I can tell you that I had a really positive experience with food growing up and what my mother did to make me feel that way.

She never forced me to eat anything I wasn't comfortable with, she did encourage me but she was never forceful and she certainly never hid foods that I wouldn't eat in foods that I would. I honestly believe that the reason I am even able to consider trying to expand my diet now is because my mother was so good about my food issues.

Trying new foods was never made a negative experience, sure there were a few things I tried that I couldn't eat over the years but that was always ok, I was allowed to not eat the rest of whatever it was. I think because mum encouraged me to taste things but didn't make a big deal out of it if I wasn't able to actually eat the thing, I was able to try some new things. It was always difficult for me to bring myself to try a new food and I admit I haven't tried many over the years but I have tried some and I have added a few things to my diet.

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