Only one food on a plate at a time. Any condiments need to be in their own container in order to avoid touching the food before it’s time to eat it.
Plates, bowls, and glasses are frequently scrutinized for cleanliness. Any suspicious speck will contaminate the food on the plate and it will be refused.
Hand washing. Occasionally requests are made that we wash our hands before feeding the kid. This always insults me and is met with a lecture about how my hands are always cleaner than his. The truth is, he’s not worried about germs, he’s worried about unauthorized foods still being on my fingers such as the essence of cheese which may transfer to his food and make him lose his appetite.
Food needs to be as even and same sized as possible. This is one of the reasons why he likes crackers and other predictably uniform foods. Most foods are amorphous and irregular, this is repugnant to him. Holes in toast, for example, used to be met with panic and then a flood of tears. Now he is much more polite about refusing to eat toast that isn’t “perfect”. There must be no rips, shreds, stringy bits, dark specks or anything ruining the appearance of his food.
Texture. He mostly likes things to be crunchy and firm. A limp carrot is an abomination. A stale cracker is unacceptable. mealy apples or crumbly anything is not okay. Tater tots slightly underdone are an insult. Texture is a very serious thing to Max and the wrong texture (such as a wet spot on a cracker) can be traumatic.
With a few exceptions (which remains a mystery to me) sticky textures such as jam or soft peanut butter in a piece of bread aren’t tolerated because if he gets it on his hands he panics (and used to cry). He will eat cornbread with honey on it (this is one of the exceptions) and will immediately run to the bathroom to clean his hands afterward – should there be an impediment to his getting to the bathroom he will freak out.
He does not eat at the table. He eats while watching movies. I fought him from the time he was a baby in the highchair until he was about two years old trying to get him to eat at the table. He would constantly try to get out of the chair and no food would be eaten. I would give up and give him a snack while he watched a movie and the movie would keep him still and calm and I found he’d put food in his mouth and not examine it as closely. This is true to this day. I don’t care what any other parent thinks of me, if it weren’t for DVDs my child would not have enough distraction to eat. It’s like needing white noise to sleep (which he also needs). I am at peace with this.
Flies or insects. If a fly or insect is seen in the same room in which he is eating he will lose his appetite for at least an hour, sometimes several. For some reason ants inside the house, especially in any room he’s eating in, are disturbing to him. He doesn’t mind them outside but he has nightmares that they are crawling on him in his bed.
Food odors. He cannot tolerate the odors of most food he doesn’t himself eat. He refuses to eat his food in the school cafeteria (a fact he didn’t tell me until I found out because he got into trouble trying to eat his protein bar in the hallway). He finds most food visually disgusting with special disgust for all pasta dishes, beans, and pizza. He is usually neutral about people eating salads near him. He is still very rude in dealing with his strong food odor/visual aversions though we keep working on it.
Temperature of foods matters. If something like toast is supposed to be warm he will not eat it if it isn’t the right temperature. He doesn’t eat much food that’s meant to be hot except for tater tots. I don’t really blame him for not liking his tater tots cold but he’s pretty dramatic about how disgusting it is. He likes his cold beverages to be really cold, but not iced.
“Old” water or old anything. If it takes him too long to drink or eat something (say, longer than a half an hour) he will refuse to eat them because they’ve been sitting out for too long. This drives me insane. I do know that water grows stale but he is so sensitive to it that I have wanted to strangle his handsome little neck at constant requests for “fresh” water or new food.
Unopened bags. He has started requesting that all Goldfish be brought to him in an unopened bag because he believes they don’t taste right when they are opened by us though it seems to be fine if other crackers are put in a bowl by us.
One left on the plate. One of whatever he’s eating that is considered his “real” food (as opposed to snacks) must always be left on the plate. For years he would always (ALWAYS) leave one tater tot or one carrot stick or one piece of apple. Even if he was hungry enough to ask for more, one must remain uneaten. He has, very lately, eased up on this. I’ve asked him many times over the years why he does this and he would just tell me he had to do it.
Food Cycles. There is a distinct cycle to his eating that I haven’t scientifically mapped but I can tell you that at one end of the cycle he’ll have about fifteen different foods in rotation that he’ll eat and at the other end of the cycle he’ll have only two foods in rotation. There are mini cycles within the bigger cycles. He’ll eat a few things obsessively until he gets a (literally) bad apple and then he won’t be willing to try that food again for a month, sometimes more. So what foods he’ll eat are constantly changing. This makes my head spin and my patience thin.
Brand specific. Don’t switch brands on this kid. He always can tell. Have him try three vanilla ice creams without seeing the packages and he can tell you which one is the one he usually eats, which one is vanilla bean (which he hated for the specks in it), and which is the off brand you bought because they were out of the usual one.
The Actual List of Tolerated Foods in the Max Diet:
Sugar toast. Whole wheat toast with butter and brown sugar.
Egg toast. (this only makes the rotation rarely). Whole wheat toast with a fried egg and ketchup. (this is hard to make “perfect” so comes with a high chance of being rejected.
Wheat hot dog bun with ketchup.
Cornbread with honey. When he loves it he LOVES it a
nd usually he will only eat few slices before it’s out of rotation for a long time.
Apples. Texture is extremely important. The slightest bit of browning and he will stop eating them. We’ve used lemon juice sometimes to help this.
Carrots. Only likes the “baby” carrots because they’re pretty uniform in shape and size. Though he recently tried cut carrots again, unfortunately they didn’t taste that great.
Grapes. Only red grapes when they’re in season. Mostly just the red grapes we get from a friend of ours. He’ll eat bowls of those.
Cucumbers. But only in season. When they’re good he LOVES them.
Watermelon. Only the seedless kinds.
Strawberry “milkshakes” made with milk, frozen strawberries, and a little sugar.
Crackers. An ever changing list of packaged crackers (organic saltines, Ritz style, Goldfish, Pop chips, and a few others that once in a while enter the rotation)
Energy/Protein bars. This is his main source of protein. We only buy Luna and Cliff because they don’t use corn syrup and are mostly organic. Right now Cliff bars are NOT OKAY. In each bar type he only likes two flavors and usually eats one flavor exclusively until he is sick of it.
Juice popsicles. Concord grape only.
French fries. When we go out to dinner we feed him at home and then let him order fries which are not good enough for him to eat 75% of the time. When they’re good he really likes them.
Peanut butter cracker sandwiches. I put peanut butter (very smooth) between two natural Ritz-style crackers. He’s not eating them now but it was a great favorite for at least two months.
Peanut butter “breakfast” cookies. I adapted my peanut butter cookie recipe to have less sugar and wheat flour so he would eat something with protein in the mornings.
Home baked cookies. A few select recipes I use are approved.
Gingerbread. He loves gingerbread.
Ice cream. All kinds of ice cream (except not fruity).
Hot cocoa. I count this as food because I make it with milk which has actual protein in it. He doesn’t like it often because he hates milk but sometimes it hits the spot.
Frozen yogurts. But not the healthy natural ones. He likes the tube yogurts made by Yoplait. I hate Yoplait for having made them appealing to kids and then putting total crap in them. Luckily, I guess, he seems almost to have permanently taken this off the acceptable foods list.
Pancakes. Ten grain pancakes with a bucket of real maple syrup.
Popcorn. Not a lot of nutritional value but at least it’s something.
Potato chips. We don’t let him have these often but he loves them.
That’s 25 items total that he will eat, including desserts.
Remember that most of the time there are only 5 to 10 of those items in rotation.
Right now there are three: Peppermint Luna bars, tater tots, and grape juice popsicles.
Food is emotional for most people and necessary for everyone. I was prepared to love my child if he was born without all his limbs, to find charm in him should he be born a dwarf, and forgiving should he grow up to be a jock… but I was not prepared for a picky eater because I believed, as most parents do, that as long as I always put healthy food in front of my kid he would eat what I gave him (barring the usual disdain for broccoli and kale that many kids have). I believed that it’s parenting skill that makes good eaters, not something mental or physiological.
Every time Max rejects the food I make for him he rejects a part of me. He doesn’t see it that way. For eight years I’ve experienced his rejection of my tireless efforts to nourish his body and mind with good food. I have compromised, worked hard at coming up with clever ways around his issues, and I have also given up a thousand times. There have been times when I was so desperate to get him to eat anything that I let him eat crap that I don’t eat myself. No normal parent will let their kids starve. Many parents of non-picky eaters love to say that no child will starve themselves so if you hold out and insist they eat what you want them to eat with the threat of no other options they’ll cave in and bend to your awesome parental will.
My child would rather die than eat soggy toast. I know this to be true. How can I know? Because I would rather starve myself to death than eat any kind of meat. Anyway, I don’t personally respect the kind of parenting that pits a parent’s will against its child’s with starvation as the threat. I want a better relationship with my son than that.
Now that Max is much older he doesn’t cry over his food issues, we discuss them and we work on them together. I can’t change the fact that he’s picky, and neither can he, but he is more willing to try new things than he used to be and since he was diagnosed with OCD two years ago we know that many of his food issues are directly related to his OCD and this makes it easier for me to not take his food rejection personally and it helps Max to understand that his many frustrations with food aren’t his fault.