My nine-year-old just ate her first vegetable - a hot chip

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

My kid has started eating hot chips and it's a big win for our family. It's the first fruit or vegetable she'll eat – and she's nine.

Unlike her sisters, she simply won't budge when it comes to certain foods. She's not being fussy, there's something deeper going on.

Senior Paediatric Dietitian and owner of Child Nutrition Miriam Raleigh said there was a strong difference between being a fussy eater and having a sensory aversion to food.

"While we might think it's just a fruit or vegetable for them it's overwhelming and upsetting and they'd rather not eat them," Ms Raleigh said.

"We might think 'it's just an apple' but for them it could be terrifying."

She said it was important for parents to seek advice from a dietician and/or therapist to assess which of the five senses were heightened and find a suitable health supplement for additional nutritional support.

It could be that your child is scared of crunching noises or has an extra strong sense of smell or taste or finds different colours unsettling or has an aversion to orange or green coloured foods, for example.

"Food arranged on a smiley plate won't do anything for these kids – they don't care," she said.

"They know their 'safe foods' and they're fine with them – they know they can survive on them.

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"It's hard for others to understand. These groups of kids will starve themselves."

She's right. When our child started refusing food, we knew there was something more serious going on.

And it started early. We've got a video of her aged about 18 months hysterically screaming at three peas on her highchair tray table.

At the time, we were advised by our paediatrician to start small. Keep offering up the same three peas, she'd get hungry soon enough and eat them.

She didn't and I'm convinced she'd still be screaming at those three peas today.

Then we turned to the "hide it" method. We hid fruit and vegetables in smoothies, cakes and homemade ice cream. She wasn't stupid – she knew what we were doing – she could smell and taste anything rogue. And we ran the risk of her cutting out more foods from her "approved food list".

We've tried bribery, reasoning and visits to dieticians with her to hear directly from a professional how important it is to eat the rainbow.

She won't even eat the textures, let alone the rainbow. She'd rather eat "white foods" like toasted cheese sandwiches and spaghetti with cheese.

So, you can imagine our excitement when she finally decided to try something new – French fries from McDonalds. Previously, she refused to even be in the same room as them, but something shifted and the moment she took her first tentative nibble on one, she was hooked.

Her love of fries has now extended to hot chips. And just like that she is eating her first vegetable.

We rejoiced, not so much about the choice of food, but because she actually tried something new. Somewhere in her psyche she decided it was going to be okay if she simply gave it a go.

Ms Raleigh said there were two distinct time periods where you might sense a shift in their approach to food – around 4-5 years old and 8-10 years old. They might become less fearful and can self analyse their own fears towards certain foods.

"Now you are on the cusp of things getting better," she said.

"It's a good time to help build comfort and tolerance to different things."

She suggested encouraging your child to feel comfortable sitting at the table with the family while eating dinner, handling different food at the supermarket or even encouraging them to help prepare the food – all without the pressure to eat it.

Slowly, they'll become "more and more comfortable" and hopefully one day this will help reduce their fears and, in turn, widen their food choices.

For others, it might be a longer path, but in the meantime you need to stop pressuring them and let them take it at their own pace.