I know I was a picky eater as a child – my siblings and I all were – but my brother was far worse than my sister and I combined, so our relatively typical picky eating paled in comparison.  

Looking at the childhood brother clinically, from my view as a speech language pathologist (yes, we also work with children/adults on swallowing/feeding/eating/nutrition issues), he’s just barely sub-clinical.  He would have (today) been a kid that a responsible pediatrician or SLP would have monitored to make sure he continued to meet dietary needs, but wouldn’t have offered direct intervention. 

Sub-clinical or not, it was always a source of stress in our home.  My brother was definitely a picky eater, just below the threshold for “Problem Feeder,” a distinction SLPs will make for kids who eat fewer than ~24 distinct foods, often fewer than 20.  Problem feeders may only eat foods of a certain color (orange, red), or texture (only crunchy, only pureed), or may avoid entire categories of foods.  They melt down when confronted with a new food, and may have accompanying sensory issues, which is often the case with children on the autism spectrum who are problem feeders. 

While my brother’s food repertoire did have certain patterns, and he had more than one melt-down at a restaurant when something was not just right, he still doesn’t quite make it into problem feeder territory.  First, let us count his food repertoire:

1)      cheese ravioli smothered in pasta sauce

2)      spaghetti smothered in pasta sauce

3)      Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

4)      fast food chicken nuggets smothered in ketchup

5)      restaurant French fries smothered in ketchup

6)      Chef Boyardee pasta shapes (with or without meatballs) in tomato sauce

7)      poptarts (strawberry) liberally topped with cream cheese

8)      bagels (plain) liberally topped with cream cheese

9)      green peas (his one non-tomato sauce vegetable)

10)  cranapple juice or cranberry juice cocktail

11)  milk (on occasion; we’re not big milk drinkers )

12)  hotdogs or hamburgers on occasion, with the usual ketchup

13)  Quaker Chewy granola bars, in peanut butter and chocolate chip

14)  frosting off of desserts (he didn’t care for the cake)

15)  fish sticks dipped in ketchup

16)  tortilla chips and salsa

17)  potato chips

18)  challah bread

19)  mozzarella cheese sticks

20)  fruit roll-ups, fruit-by-the-food, fruit snacks (the only fruit-like product, outside of juice)

21)  soda

22)  ice cream (I forget which flavors, probably vanilla or chocolate)

23)  Friendly’s peanut butter cup sundae

24)  M&Ms, Reese’s peanut butter cups

25)  Other chocolate things

Phew; we made it to 25, plus there are all sorts of junk foods I’m undoubtedly leaving out.  Looking at patterns in the above, we can see he likes tomato-based products, applied liberally.  There is also brand and flavor specificity.  My brother had a continual issue with home-baked fries and chicken nuggets; as they were not deep-friend and packed with junk, they never tasted crispy enough.  Looking at the tendency towards salty, highly-flavored foods, one might label my brother a sensory-seeking child, which I would agree with entirely.  He likes crunchy foods (chips), soft foods (ice cream, cream cheese), chewy foods (fruit roll-ups, chicken).  I know my parents were frequently concerned with his protein intake, so he began consuming some tuna in adolescence. He’s since been turned onto steak, and enjoys ordering a steak (smothered, of course, with A1) when he eats out.  He does (and did) get into food “jags,”  and to this day (he’s nearly 27) eats a strawberry Pop-tart with cream cheese every day. 

One of the other issues, besides the obvious nutrition concern, is social.  A family is restricted not only when they eat out (we were stuck with American, family-friendly traditional fare for years), but also at home.  I think my sister’s and my food repertoire were somewhat stunted as Mom would have had to cook separate meals if we wanted to eat something other than what my brother was eating.  And then there’s the peer concern.  Something interesting happened on my brother’s early separations from the family.  When he went off to camp (3 separate times, for short sessions), he was faced with a distinct lack of the usual fare.  Though Mom had no doubt packed his suitcases with Quaker Chewy granola bars and Strawberry Pop-tarts (and still stocks the pantry likewise), he had a choice – to eat some of what was provided during meal times with his peers, or go hungry until he could eat his food back in his bunk.  At college, too, he learned that if he wanted to go out with friends to eat, or enjoy a meal in the dining hall (if that’s possible, given some of the “tofu and yam surprise” options) with roommates, he had to go along to get along.  As a result, he added foods like pancakes and kebabs to his ever-growing list of foods.  Recently, we have been able to go out to eat at ethnic restaurants, including Indian and Asian cuisine, which would have been unheard of. 

My brother is often deserving of the term “late bloomer”.  He’s been able to travel abroad, live alone, socialize with peers, and assume some responsibility for keeping himself alive nutritionally.  Amazing what a picky eater can do when confronted with a healthy dose of peer pressure.  Funny how they never tell you the positive effects of peer pressure during DARE assemblies.

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