Dear Rene,

My question is about my 6-year-old son and his eating habits, or lack thereof.

This is his menu: Chicken nuggets (only Tyson brand frozen), pepperoni pizza, mac and cheese, and fish sticks. That is all I can get him to eat without an argument. If it doesn’t look the same as he’s used to, for example, the mac and cheese is a different color or shape, he starts crying and refusing to even taste it.

This is a battle with him at every single meal. It is exhausting! When he knows it’s time to eat, he always asks, “What’s for supper, breakfast, etc.?” When I tell him, and its not one of the foods I mentioned earlier, he automatically starts with the, “I don’t like that”, or “what’s it look like?”

I am at my wits end! I’ve tried making him sit at the table until he eats, that didn’t work. He would sit there for days without eating if it’s something he doesn’t want to eat. I’ve tried just sending him to bed, that didn’t work either. I’ve gotten to the point where I have given in to him. I don’t even try to get him to eat healthy stuff because it has been a never-ending battle. What am I doing wrong? Should I not try to make him try new foods? Help!

Sign me:

Barely hanging on…

Dear Barely Hanging On:

Oh, the food issue is such a big one with kids and parents. In fact I just answered another question along these lines a couple of weeks ago. I think, along with potty training, it’s one of the few times young kids have a chance to exercise some control over their environment and take the first fledgling steps toward autonomy. But we also have to maintain some power and control because we are the parents and ultimately know what is best for them.

Having said that, my normal bit of advice would involve taking a bit of a hard-line approach; kids will eat what is in front of them when they get hungry enough. If that means letting your son go to bed without dinner for a night, so be it. It won’t kill him and he will learn dinner is not the same as a diner and he must eat what is in front of him or go hungry.

But there is something in your letter that makes me think this is not willful disobedience by an insolent child. The fact that you said he gets upset if the mac and cheese doesn’t LOOK the same and that he only eats a certain brand of chicken nuggets, makes me wonder if something more is going on. I preface this by saying I am not a doctor, just a mom with kids of her own but I am wondering if you have had your child evaluated for Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a disorder that is part of the Autism spectrum. It is characterized by social awkwardness, narrow but intense interests and some times physical clumsiness as well. I have a childhood friend whose son has Asperger’s. He displays all of these symptoms and is very particular about his food. It has to look a certain way, there are textures he won’t put in his mouth and he is rigid about his meals; for example, he has to eat the same thing every day for breakfast.

I would suggest doing a little research online on Asperger’s. See if there are a couple of other symptoms or behaviors that you son exhibits. If the answer is yes, follow up with a visit to your pediatrician where you can ask questions and get some answers. If she rules that out, ask her for some help in coming up with an eating plan for your son that won’t have your stomach in knots come dinnertime.

Good luck, mommy!

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