Q: My 10-year-old granddaughter used to eat well but choked on a hamburger a year ago. Since then, she's been afraid to eat almost everything, except select foods like macaroni and cheese, peanut butter sandwiches and ice cream. She eats very little. She was checked by a doctor, and there's no obstruction. She's seeing a therapist, but we see no change and wonder if this is the way to go. She's maintaining her weight, but she is definitely not eating healthfully, and my daughter is beside herself.
A: Your granddaughter is eating only soft foods, and it's likely to take her some time before she gets brave enough to return to her normal eating. Perhaps her parents can expand her menu to include other soft foods like applesauce or mashed potatoes and add a nutritional drink, as well. Fruit and vegetable juices, along with a daily multi-vitamin, can round out her diet until she gradually gains courage to try more textured food.
A visit to a nutritionist might provide the expertise that will win her over to healthy eating. Your granddaughter is old enough to learn about the food groups she must have for good nutrition, and perhaps after studying what will make her healthy, she can be taught to make choices from all the food groups. Fear of not growing to her potential or having weak bones may rival fear of choking and encourage her to experiment with eating some healthy food again. An objective nutritionist could be more successful in reaching your granddaughter only because she probably senses her mother's anxiety with this issue.
Rather than discontinuing her therapy, I suggest her parents plan to meet with the therapist to better understand the therapist's treatment plan and how they can be of help in facilitating it. Therapy may take time after an anxiety-provoking experience like choking.
Your granddaughter could learn to try foods again if she participated in Girl Scouts. They often have camping trips where they prepare and make their own meals. When she observes peers eating a variety of foods, she is likely to join in and gradually try a few new foods.
Time is on your side. It would be important for all adults to be patient and for your granddaughter to not hear adult talk about her problem behavior. The more she hears about her problem, the more likely she is to dig her heels in and refuse to change. The referential talk could actually cause her to believe that she isn't able to change. Her fear could be getting her too much attention.
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Photo credit: Blake Handley