Is your child’s “picky eating” just a behavior or is something else going on?
Some simple reasons your child might not want to try that new food
So often I hear from parents that their child’s refusals to try new foods is as a result of “attitude” or “behavior” or the child being “just plain stubborn!” But what if we step back for a moment, remove all the emotion and ask the question, “What else might be going on?” Let’s face it, raising kids is hard, and if you’ve got a child who seems to fight you on everything else, having battles at the dinner table only adds to parental frustration and overall negative feelings about parenting. But let’s take a step back, for just a moment, and consider whether underlying those tantrums and refusals at the dinner table is a medical condition that is ultimately the cause.
“But my child is healthy!” you protest. Yes, they very well may be, but sometimes “minor” chronic conditions can cause feeding challenges, so let’s explore the most common possibilities starting at the “top” of the child, with their mouth and nose.
Tonsils: Some kids have chronically enlarged tonsils. They aren’t sick, don’t have any other symptoms, but the tonsils at the back of their mouth are so large that they almost touch in the middle! Google “kissing tonsils” and you’ll see what I mean. Others have chronic sore throats as a result of post-nasal drip from allergies or untreated/unrecognized acid reflux. Either way, foods that are “rough”* or which don’t break down fully while chewing** may be painful to swallow and/or very difficult to get through that reduced opening and into the throat for swallowing.
Enlarged adenoids: So, what the heck IS an adenoid anyway? According to kidshealth.org, adenoids “are a patch of tissue that sit in the back of the nasal cavity. Like tonsils, adenoids help keep your body healthy by trapping harmful bacteria and viruses that you breathe in or swallow.” Like tonsils, they are an important part of our immune systems but also like tonsils, they can become chronically inflamed and enlarged which can impact a child’s willingness to eat and drink. Why? This one is a tad bit complicated: it has to do with what we call “breathe/swallow” coordination. That is, when we are eating and drinking, we have to take breaks to breathe. Because swollen adenoids make it difficult for us to breathe through our noses during these breaks, eating and drinking become harder because we have to take breaths and breathe through our mouths instead. If you want to test out what I’m saying, sit down and have a snack while holding your nose closed. Notice how you start chewing with your mouth open so you can take a breath while chewing. Notice how you have to stop and breathe through your mouth when drinking and can’t just “chug” liquids as well. If your child has oversized adenoids, they are fighting with this all the time and it is likely impacting their choices of what they will eat and drink (not to mention that they probably snore, which is not a great way for kids, or parents, to get a good night’s sleep!)
So, what’s a parent to do? Tonsils are easy to see, just ask your child to open their mouth and use a flashlight or the light on your phone to see inside their mouth. If they are oversized and blocking the pathway to the throat, even part way, they may be impacting your child’s food choices. Unfortunately, only a doctor can see adenoids, but you may be able to figure out if they are a potential issue by checking your child for the following signs: do they snore, is their breathing raspy (some people call it Darth Vader breathing), when they speak do they sound like they have a stuffy nose all the time, do they chew with their mouths open, are they mouth breathers? If you answered “yes” to several of these, your child’s adenoids may be impacting their food choices.
Next up: I’ve identified that my child’s tonsils and/or adenoids may be impacting their eating. Now what?
*rough foods tend to be foods that require lots of chewing to break down like nuts, very hard and thick chips, raw vegetables like carrots, etc.
**foods that don’t break down fully with chewing include meats that are not highly processed such as beef, pork, chicken breast. This does not include ground or formed meats like deli meats or chicken nuggets. This is why some kids will eat chicken nuggets but refuse chicken strips!