When Your Child Has Food Issues…

I’ve been there. Your experience is my experience. I have, make that HAD, a child with major food issues.

Pandora is our child with issues. She has developmental delays, a language disorder, possible ADHD with inattentiveness, possible dyslexia, and the cherry on the top … eating issues.

It started with constant screaming and crying from the time she left the womb until she was five months old. It was the longest five months of our lives. I cried all the time. Finally, she was diagnosed with a milk allergy {which by age three, she outgrew}. The undiagnosed milk allergy caused her so much pain that she refused to eat, which led to us buying level 4 nipples so we could literally have formula pour into her throat and down her stomach. When a baby does not have to suck-swallow-breathe {SSB} properly, oral motor delays are created. We did not know this at the time; we simply needed her to grow. 

At 22 months, Pandora started speech therapy because she had approximately five words she could say. A few months after therapy started, my awesome sister-in-law {a diagnosed speech pathologist} asked me very bluntly when the present speech therapist was going to start food therapy.

Food therapy? What? Why? Pandora ate just fine. I was in such denial. My sister-in-law patiently and firmly explained when you have a list of what your child will eat vs won’t eat, there is an issue. Once I thought about it, I realized Pandora had food issues. At two, she ate Tyson chicken nuggets {no other brand}, applesauce, hotdogs, French fries, rice, strawberries, chips, pretzels, and sometimes grilled chicken.

We traveled with food.  We had to bring food with us to restaurants, to friend’s houses, on vacation. We gave a specific shopping list to our family in Florida when we would visit them. I remember my husband leaving my aunt’s house ten minutes after we arrived to buy the right milk. They bought a flavored version, and we both knew she would not drink it and therefore would not sleep, etc. It. Was. Stressful. 

Food issues are a nightmare. The good news? Food therapy works. The bad news? It takes time and patience, and you must be willing to do the hard work. You cannot leave it up to the therapist to work the magic alone. 

What does a year of food therapy look like? Well, the good news … it ends with multiple vacations and restaurant outings where all you bring is your purse. Imagine that life!

Food therapy looks kind of silly in the beginning. It looks like a joke. It looks like a waste of money. Pandora would receive praises for kissing a noodle, a green bean, a raspberry. Sometimes, all she would do was touch it. I paid for this, and I am so glad. Kissing and touching led to chewing. Sometimes the food was spit out; sometimes it was swallowed. I brought food each week to our therapist, and each week she worked on tongue placement, texture aversion, oral motor skills, and a bunch of other things I am not trained to do. Each week, Pandora was exposed to more and more foods and began to eat more and more foods at home. While in therapy, Pandora made HUGE strides, and I would leave her appointment so excited.

At home, food therapy is a straight up nightmare, a nightmare filled with bribes and crying and other siblings asking why they don’t get rewarded for eating. It comes with stares from strangers, relatives, and other well-meaning adults who think you are torturing your child. It’s a completely exhausting nightmare that makes you want to throw the hotdog across the room and let your child outgrow this at their own pace.

The issue? They don’t outgrow it. They become big kids with poor diets. And poor nutrition can lead to behavioral problems and health issues. 

I  worked my end of therapy during dinner. I could not do the therapy for breakfast because we are rushed for school, and I would never send something in Pandora’s lunch that she would not eat, so there it was … winner winner, chicken dinner.

Each night for a year, Pandora would have some sort of therapy at dinner. New food? Touch it, kiss it. If she put ONE bite in her mouth and chewed it and swallowed it, she got an M&M. Yes. A single M&M for ONE bite. You can only imagine the death stares I got from her big sister who NEVER once got an M&M at dinner. The M&M per bite turned into an M&M for two bites, three bites, etc. We used special forks in the shapes of animals. I fed her on my lap. She could eat on the floor. She could eat standing. If she was willing to eat, the HOW did not matter. I did not even care if the utensils were on the floor and she ate with her hands. At least she ate.

If she refused to eat a food she had already successfully eaten, I would remind her the food wouldn’t hurt her, and Penelope and I would sing a song, “Pandora’s getting stronger” to encourage her to eat. If after twenty minutes, she did not eat – she went hungry. YES. HUNGRY.

Dinner time from age two to three was filled with tears, hesitation, time-outs, hunger, singing, M&Ms, and SUCCESS. I have NEVER worked as hard as a parent as I did that year. To watch your child be afraid to eat, to be scared of food, to not understand that she needs vegetables to be healthy, will make you cry daily. I cried a tremendous amount from frustration.

That year is in our past. We survived! Pandora put in the most hard work and has a cute belly to show for it! She is on the growth charts, and she is strong. Pandora eats extremely well these days and even has favorite vegetables: green beans and broccoli.

We still have our moments. I had to special order grilled chicken and broccoli one night in Disney because the kid’s menu was filled with foods she would not eat {fish, steak, lasagna}. Just today, minutes ago, she ate her first bite of pot roast. Her exact words, “Oh! I like it! I will have it for dinner with broccoli. Can I have my candy now?”

She knows the drill. New food? Candy afterward.

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Michele is a native Houstonian and loves everything Texas, including the Longhorns. She and her husband were married in January 2002 and are parents to the most wonderful girls, Penelope {August 2008} and Pandora {August 2011}. A former educator, Michele is passionate about education and student learning. She spends most of her days volunteering at her daughters' schools and tutoring neighborhood children in reading. Michele loves her big family and enjoys traveling to see all her relatives as well as being the fun aunt to her nieces and nephews. Her daily goal is to laugh each day and enjoy the moments. Becoming a mom was the greatest gift for Michele, and she treasures it all, even the tantrums. You can read more about Michele, her life, and her parenting adventures on her personal blog The Adventures of Tomboys in Tiaras.


  1. Thank you so much for this. This is our life and has been for the past two years. Except our son eats even less than your daughter did at the beginning, and he’s 4 now. It’s not easy to find food therapy in this town, at least it hasn’t been for us. Or we’ve tried, only to be told that his issue is behaviorial, not medical, so they couldn’t help him. (Duh. I could have told them that.) But I’ve called the place that is linked to in your blog post, so I’m daring to hope that they can help him. Something has to. We can’t go on like this.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. Our son just turned 3, and just about every meal is a fight. Many nights he goes to bed without dinner, his choice. Just after he turned 2 he had a frenectomy because we finally discovered he had a tongue and lip tie after many attempts with feeding therapy and a few with speech therapy. After the surgery, his speech improved 100 fold… his eating did not change much. He would only eat pureed foods (no textures) just past his 2nd birthday. We finally put an end to that expense, and tried putting what we were eating for that meal on a plate for him too. So frustrating… I will be contacting the PTC and hopefully getting past this challenging stage.


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