How to get your picky eater to dig in
In all the fuss at the start of the pandemic, Moffat Makomo decided to write a book.
He was a paediatric occupational therapist with Bermuda Hospitals Board and worried that families would suffer during shelter-in-place when their access to clinical services would be limited.
His concern over how the lockdowns would impact children stemmed not only from having two of his own but because of his work at Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.
“I thought about the children that I saw on a day-to-day basis and thought about what parents can do to try and, almost like, problem-solve some of the challenges themselves,” said Mr Makomo, whose six-year-old daughter, Luanne, and two-year-old son, Seth, were both born on his birthday, September 25.
“Both of them are picky eaters. It’s really a big challenge trying to get them to eat. We used to go every day to the supermarket and now we were supposed to be going on certain days according to the letter of your last name. My daughter only ate chicken nuggets and rice and that was it; we had to find ways for her to start eating more. We had to find ways for my son to start eating a different variety of foods.”
He completed Here Comes the Aeroplane: A Guide To Building Insight With Your Picky Eater in March, having centred the book around his family’s experiences.
“There are picky eaters and then there are what are called problem feeders,” said Mr Makomo, a Zimbabwean who lived in Bermuda for more than a decade but moved to the UK this year.
“Problem feeders are children who have challenges with eating. Typically, they do not want to try anything. It’s just hard for them, it’s almost like it’s behavioural. Whereas for picky eaters, they’re willing to try new things but [their problems are] more or less connected to sensory processing. It might be because of the smell of the food or it might be because of the taste. It might be the colour of the food; textures.”
There are also those children like his daughter, who seek comfort in certain foods, Mr Makomo said.
“We all have our preferences but if your preferences affect or impact on you eating a balanced diet, then it becomes a challenge.
“If you’re no longer eating the nutrients that you need to because of those preferences we start looking at why you have those preferences; is there anything that we can do so that we can broaden the types of food that you eat so that you end up having a balanced diet.”
Not having that balance can lead to malnutrition, which can affect children’s “growth, their development even their learning process in school”, the author said.
“When it comes to that stage, we’re definitely concerned. So I was throwing experience from my own children as well as my own clinical experience. I wanted other parents to start analysing their situations and start talking with their children to find out why they were picky. Was it because of the texture of the food? Was it because sometimes they don’t feel hungry? Was it because of the smell? Was it because it’s their comfort food or was it an attention-seeking behaviour?”
He published the book in August with the idea it would be “almost like a guide” that would help parents better understand their child and help children better understand their eating.
“Our daughter got to know more about herself,” Mr Makomo said. “She learnt she eats mainly beige foods, like chicken nuggets, but it has to be a specific kind of chicken nuggets and they have to be very crunchy chicken nuggets, almost burnt. She won’t eat them if they’re soggy.”
The observation taught his daughter that what she really liked was the crispy texture; it taught her parents that she might also enjoy other types of food if they were presented in that way.
“[The book is] a conversation starter,” Mr Makomo said. “The first topic might be trying to get the child to notice when they’re hungry – I know when I’m hungry if my tummy is growling, if I had maybe lightheadedness; if I’m feeling a little bit grouchy.”
The title, Here Comes the Aeroplane, came from a feeding strategy that had worked with his son; Mr Makomo chose elephants for the cover because of a Zimbabwean tradition where each family is identified by a totem.
He then decided to make the book easily accessible – most important was that it allowed him to give back to the island his family still thinks of as home.
“My daughter and my son were born in Bermuda. My daughter only knows about Bermuda. She has lots of friends in Bermuda and actually still misses Bermuda. We gained a lot while we were in Bermuda. Bermuda is what made my kids. It also helped me in my profession,” he said.
It’s part of the reason he offers a free download of the Kindle version of the book each month.
“It’s so as many parents as possible can read it,” he said.
“The price that I put there is just to break even so that the illustrators or whatever resources I used can be paid. I definitely hope it will be of help to some parents who are out there feeling that they are no longer getting the services that they used to, especially the clinical services. Maybe this is something for them that they can try out during this trying time.”
Here Comes the Aeroplane: A Guide To Building Insight With Your Picky Eater is available here: amzn.to/3lPG17g