Lydia got in touch with me on twitter with two really interesting questions about picky eating, in relation to her daughter, Evie.
1) Do food allergies make picky eating worse?
2) Is picky eating 'just a phase' ?
I'm going to tackle these questions in two separate posts as there's so much to say on both!
Food allergies and intolerances are a common problem. According to figures from the USA, since the late 1990 s, the rates of reported food allergies in children has been increasing almost five-fold.So does this have an impact on picky eating and food refusal? First, it's important to distinguish between food intolerances and plain pickiness. Perhaps your child is having a physical reaction to certain foods, such as a bloated stomach or discomfort around the lips or mouth. If you have a suspicion that he may have an allergy or intolerance, get this checked out by a medical professional. Laurel Rockefeller describes what it's like when food allergies get mistaken for fussy eating.
In Evie's case, her mother Lydia explained that she was dairy intolerant but grew out of it, as many children do. Her brother Leo, however, still has a dairy intolerance. He is also egg and soya free. Dairy intolerance is something I can relate to, having been through it with two of my three girls. Both of my daughters thankfully grew out of it at around the age of one, but it gave me a valuable insight into what it's like to live with food allergies. Lydia was wondering whether living in a household where there were food intolerances was contributing to Evie's fussy eating.
In answer to Lydia, two things spring to mind - first, specialness, secondly, fear. When I was researching War & Peas, I gained some important insights from the case of a little boy who we called 'William' for the book (not his real name). William's father had coeliac disease - a common digestive problem where a person cannot tolerate gluten. This meant that he ate different meals from the rest of the family - part of William's pickiness was about getting his own 'special' meals just like Daddy. Equally, William's father had a particularly severe reaction to gluten so William had grown up knowing that food was something to be feared. He became scared of new foods and only accepted things that he considered 'safe'.
So if a child is living with food allergies, either their own or other peoples, they can learn that food can be a means to feeling special and getting extra attention. They can also learn that food is something that can cause pain and is to be regarded with suspicion. For the parent of a child with allergies, this is your challenge - to serve food that feels as much like what everyone else is eating as possible, and to keep your child safe whilst not drawing attention to what you are doing.
Lydia read War & Peas and then came back to me with some of her own thoughts on pickiness and food allergies. I wanted to share these with you as her insights are very valuable.
- Children with restricted diets will probably not have had the same exposure to a wide variety of tastes and textures as other children.
- Different meals will probably be being served to different family members, as cooking the same meal for everyone in a household with allergies is a big ask.
- Having to explain to siblings that they can't share food because it could make their brother / sister unwell is necessary but may give a negative message about food
Raising a picky child isn't easy. Raising a picky child with food allergies is harder still. Parents need to be very aware of how they feel about their children's eating, as well as of how these emotions may be impacting their child.
I would love to hear from any parents of children with food allergies - how do you ensure that your child doesn't feel that food is to be feared, and how to you avoid making your child feel different from others because of his or her allergies? Does your child ever seem to use his or her allergies as a way of getting attention? What do you feel you've got right? What do you wish you'd done differently?
My thanks to Lydia for sharing her story and her ideas.