Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Food is a REAL Problem

Spencer eating pad thai with the ZOE kids.
Pictured here, on the right, is our youngest child Spencer.  He has lived in Thailand for longer now than he did in Australia.  And, strangely, he probably has no recollection of the place that he was born.

Our eldest child, Tobiah however, was 4 years old when we moved. And, for him, the past 15 months of eating the food here has been a real issue.

Tobi has always been the pickiest eater out of our three children and on top of that, we recently discovered that he also has some sensory processing difficulties, which probably makes it even more challenging for him to adjust to certain foods that he naturally wants to avoid.

So what do you do when you have a child that just WILL NOT eat certain foods?  Well, I'm sorry but I don't know that I have the answer to this question.  I believe that every child is so different and what "works" for one may not work for another.

But since making a choice to be over here, we knew that not eating Thai food was not an option- not in the long term anyway.

I would say that it took a good 10 or so months until we started to noticing a change in Tobi's attitude towards food.  From constantly asking for, craving and talking about "western" foods to now being able to eat the same things as the rest of the family and trying new foods on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis; you can understand how happy we are that bit-by-bit he's adjusting.

We definitely haven't arrived, my son still LOVES pizza, lasagna, tacos, nachos, pasta and all the home-made baking that remind him of life in Australia, but he is also able to enjoy some of the wonderful flavors and textures of the food here too.

Below are a few dot points on what we did to encourage our son to be able to accept the food here in Thailand and cope during the times when he didn't get to eat his favourite!

  • Try to keep a relaxed attitude. 
  • Repeat exposure to certain foods e.g. rice!
  • Introduce new foods slowly and don't attempt to change all eating habits at once.
  • Give lots of praise for even the smallest success.
  • Choose 'teaching' times carefully and do not offer alternative food options at these times.
  • Set a good example of healthy eating.
  • Share your own personal dislikes/likes and help kids to understand that, even when foods aren't our favourite, we can still eat them.
  • Involve children in the process of getting food ready: setting the table, peeling the carrots or helping choose a yummy dessert to celebrate successes.
  • AND.... never give up!
When I asked my son yesterday to tell me some of the things that helped him learn to try new foods he replied, "I looked around and saw how nicely everybody else was eating and I wanted to be like that.  Also I tried a little bit at first and then each time I ate a bit more until I got used to it" and finally he said, "You know Mum, you should write and tell people that sisters and brothers should encourage one another to eat new foods- that's also what helped me!"

And there you have it!!

You know, there are still the occasional relapses, still the days where it seems that nothing will do unless it's pizza and so forth ... but on the whole, we couldn't be more proud.  Our boy eats lots of different vegetables now (including greens), many fruits, rice, different types of meat, noodles etc.  He's even started eating some mild curries with us just so he can share our naan bread!

And finally, remember that meal times should not be either stressful or a time to do battle.  Stay calm and if it turns in to a disaster then, there's always tomorrow!
 

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