help with step son won't eat healthy

elliemay1466September 8, 2009

Hi, I am new to the forum and read some really great things already. I was wondering if anyone had advise on a 9 year old SS who won't eat anything healthy... and I mean anything. He won't even try not one fruit or vegetable (unless you count french fries, which I don't give him), no nuts, vitamins, nothing. He is overweight and when he comes every other weekend can barely make it up the stairs and tries to refuse any exercise. He comes in, flops on the couch and wants to stay there for 2 days and be catered to like at mom's and grandma's. He is the unhealthiest child I have ever seen...ever. I have 2 kids 10 and 7 who eat well, and when asked to try something always will out of respect. He refuses to taste any food, not that he doesn't like it, because he doesn't want to is his reason. Help, I have lost my patience, but am not going to part of the problem of letting him eat himsself to death. My husband, which we have only been married 5 months, can't stand it either but the child is just not going to listen. He will lose everything before doing somethere he does not want to do.

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The problem here is that your SS does not spend much time at your home. He probably is used to eating a certain way at his mom's, and it's hard to undo that programming with EOW visitation.

It does sound like he might have some emotional-eating issues; I wonder if he is or has been in any sort of counseling? Kids usually eat in the way you are describing to fill some sort of void. I would, if you haven't already, urge your DH to look into counseling for his son.

As far as what you can do....just don't offer unhealthy foods! Serve the healthier types of meals/snacks that you normally would when SS is visiting. If he won't eat, that's his problem. As long as you're not serving crazy foods that no kid would eat, I think just going about your normal meal plans is fine. Or is there something in particular you know he likes? Could you make a healthy version of it? For example---say he loooves McDonalds chicken nuggets. Make some healthy ones. Cut up skinned chicken breasts into tenders, find a recipe for baked chicken tenders and voila!

Does he love fries? Make baked sweet potato fries. My kids gobble these up! I cut up sweet potatoes into long fry-shaped slices, drizzle with a teeny bit of olive oil, LIGHTLY salt (or use Mrs. Dash!) and bake. YUMMY.

For snacks---have healthy ones on hand. Apples w/maybe a small serving of caramel dipping sauce. Or veggies with a low-fat dip. If you buy chips, buy the baked kind.

If you do all these things and he still won't eat, there is not a ton you can do. We have had similar issues with my 7 yr old SS---at BM's, it's lots of fast food, pizzas, tater tots, fish sticks, chips, pop-tarts, etc. We eat much healthier and he struggles at times. BUT we have an advantage as he is with us 50% of the time, so he's fairly used to how we eat at our house. It must be a lot harder when you have limited time with the child.

I would also encourage you guys to be as active as possible on the weekends your SS is with you. Go hiking in a park. Bike ride. Go to the local Y and swim. Do family activities that get him out there being active and healthy.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 2:25PM
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Something I've done with my 3 children and 4 grandkids...get them involved in cooking the meals.
From the menu planning right up to prepping, slicing, dicing, stirring...all of it. Yes, it takes more time, and yes there is a bigger mess. But I swear, once the family raves about the meal they've prepared...well, katie bar the door!
Don't just give them the salad prep, give them more of a challenge.
And because there will be healthy aspects to the meal they will balk. Explain that not everyone likes all parts of the meal, but we will all eat at least a teaspoon with a smile on our faces out of respect for the cook.
In my house, if you gritched about the meal, there was a much larger sized spoon waiting :) Of course they'd really ham it up when I'd serve a favorite and tease the heck out of me...all in good fun though.
Your meal times will not become a battle ground. And remind him that this is not "let's make a deal" (as in if you eat this then I'll give you that).
Involve him, you never know, he might end up becoming a great chef :)

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 2:43PM
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We are active when he is there EOW, even his Dad, who is very athletic and active. He can barely make it down the street on a bike and will start crying to go to his mom's if you want him to taste something or exercise much. We have tried sweet potatoes and apples and peanut butter and everything. DH says his problem is grandma started feeding him hamburgers at 1 and he wouldn't eat anything else. He has never tried anything unless it is pizza, nuggets, fries, etc.... I can understand not eating it because you don't like it, but he tells us he just doesn't want to try it. How can someone health contious watch him kill himself, it is just sickening to me? Mom tries to get him to try stuff, and he cries and wants to go to his dad's when she does it. He will be 10 next week. How do I accept his laziness and just get to where I do not care if he is healthy or not? He stays sick all the time too.

He is in councelling but for anger management right now, I guess the food issues will have to wait at therapy. He is very spoiled and has always had anything he wants from grandparents that he gets really angry when he does not get his way. I am so frustrated, I want him to be healthy and productive and he could care less!

Oh, and he will not help cook, he doesn't want to get up for that. He likes video games and TV, other than that, forget it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 3:42PM
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Maybe I'm a horrible monster...
But he's not going to die of starvation if he doesn't eat at your house for two days at a time. If you are providing healthy food for a ten year old who refuses to eat it, that's their choice.

Prepare three healthy meals and three healthy snacks each day, as if he is going to eat them.
Look at it as that you can lead a horse to water...

Don't offer options more flexible than this, "Would you like toast with fruit and yogurt for breakfast, OR, would you like Bran Flakes with fruit?"
If he doesn't want either of those things say, "Sorry, that's what is available. The other kids have chosen toast, so I will make some for you too and it will be on the table for you to eat."
Have him join the family at the table while everyone eats. If he doesn't eat it, he doesn't eat it. Unfortunately it will go to waste, but you can't force feed him. He may sit there like a sullen lump, but you made food for him, so that's his choice.

His health will NOT be in jeopardy if you are providing perfectly good meals and snacks but he refuses to eat them because he wants fast food.
He may be cranky, overtired and whiny if he won't eat, but he won't die.

Don't cave. Don't wheedle or negotiate. Don't fall into "just a few bites of this and you can have _____". Don't punish for not eating it or reward for eating it.
Just provide the healthy food at regular intervals, and let him choose to eat it or not.

Either he'll choose to eat it, or he will be very hungry.

Now, just to add - do take his preferences into account. Everyone has foods they prefer and don't like. If he doesn't like onions, don't choose that night to make French Onion Soup. If he prefers cheddar to mozza, use cheddar for the afternoon crackers and cheese snack. If he hates peaches and nectarines but you once saw him eat a grape without making a puke-face, have grapes on hand. And so on...
My 10yo SS is a pretty good eater, but I take his likes and dislikes into account. Everyone is entitled to preferences! But within limits.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 4:38PM
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"he's not going to die of starvation if he doesn't eat at your house for two days at a time."

& he cries for mom when dad won't cave, & he cries for dad when mom doesn't cave.

He's playing his parents against each other.

Mom & Dad need to throw out the junk & keep a variety healthy stuff in both houses.

Ignore (don't reward!) the fit-throwing & waterworks, & eventually he'll eat.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 4:58PM
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We do have a rule that you must try everything on your plate and if you do not like it don't eat it. Nothing works to get him to put anything healthy in his mouth, not bribery or punishment. He will sit and pout the whole meal at the table if anything remotely healthy (corn, sweet potatoes, green beans, the easy vegetables)gets on his plate. I would be OK if he ate fruit and not veges, or the other way, but he eats neither, won't try any of it. I know this sounds crazy, because I have never seen anything like it, but its true! What do you do about his health? He has been to the dr, he is not allergic and nothing is physically wrong with him why he can't eat decent food. My son had candy put up in the cabinet from a birthday party and after being told nothing sweet because he wouldn't taste anything he tried to sneak in there and get his candy. Mom and grandma are the problem, and they will not change their ways because mom does not eat healthy and grandma buys and does whatever he wants to keep from upsetting him. Its our battle. I don't see how he can say no if he has never tried any of it, not even one grape has he ever put in his mouth.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 5:31PM
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I agree that he won't starve if he refuses to eat what the family is eating. I would offer him a variety of healthy food at mealtime and if he chooses not to eat, that's his choice. and if he does not eat dinner, no dessert. Do not give it any attention.. sometimes kids will be difficult because it gets everyone focused on them, then they do it more.

Trying to change his eating habits with EOW visitation is going to be pointless. Also, if you are harping on his eating habits, he may also resist because he doesn't see his dad much and then to be hounded about his weight & eating habits on what he probably wants to be 'fun' time might make him resist your efforts. If it were up to me, I would not say anything about what he's eating and focus on doing fun stuff... take him to the park and play ball with him or go on a bike ride. Pack a picnic of healthy stuff and plenty of water. Then, there is no choice but to eat what was packed.

Another thought.. is dad overweight? Is dad active or inactive? Mom's house may be the problem but there is NOTHING you can do about what mom does. If dad is so concerned, he can seek more time such as 50/50 and he might have a greater influence. If dad lives a healthy lifestyle, boys usually model after their fathers while girls model after mom.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 6:58PM
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At his age, your SS is still dependent on you. That means if you go somewhere, he goes with you. So instead of giving him the option of sitting around the house all weekend, get out and do things, physical things. Bike rides, trips to the park, maybe a family ball game or shooting some hoops at a local court...anything that gets him up and going. As far as food goes, he can't eat something if it is not there to eat. When you know he is coming, get rid of the junk food. Give him plenty of healthy options so he feels as if he still has 'choices'. You can't control what goes on in mom's home, but you can control what goes on in yours. Even if it is only a few days out of the month, at least it's a few days that he IS eating healthy. I'm sure he will probably complain to the mother, just as most children of divorced parents do. And just as you can't do anything about what goes on in her home, she too can't change how you choose to run your home. Perhaps it will cause her to take a look at their own eating habits.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 7:32PM
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Ceph hit the nail on the head!
If u only offer him healthy, and he refuses to eat, then so be it. Eventually he will get hungry enough and eat something. That's really the best you can do! I have done this with all of my three kids (2 bio and 1 Step) and believe me if they are really hungry they will eat. Thats not to say don't give choices, but they need to be healthy choices only. U can't control what is goin on at BMs or GMas so don't stress over it anymore... you can only control what happens at your house.
Also, something you might find helpful as far as tv, computer and video games go- at my house you have to earn those treats, now my kids are physically active, but not all that big on taking time out to read, work on math or anything school work related- My kids can earn tv or computer or video game time by reading, extra practice on school work etc... I give 30 minutes of "fun time" for 30 minutes of "school work time" I suggest you try giving him 30 minutes of "fun time" for 30 minutes of physical activity, this could just mean going for a walk, kicking the ball around....... It really does work, but you have to NEVER GIVE IN..I am thinking that is part of this boys problem, he pouts or cries to go to the other parent to get his way...stick to your rules AND DONT CAVE OR BEND....he will probably be miserable and cry at first BUT once he realizes your not going to send him home, or give in he will start to do what he needs to do....
I would also have dad sit down with mom and give her the 411 on what you all are doing, she may be supportive or may not, but wither way it gives her a heads up, so she knows what to expect when SS comes home complaining..good luck! you all can do this, even if it is only every other weekend, It will make an impression...
Also, maybe dad and SS could take up a sport together? I bet SS would be glad to have some time alone with dad, even if it is just for a walk.........

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 9:19PM
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I can understand considering tabling the eating issue if he has bigger problems and you're wanting to pick your battles. Given that he's in counseling for anger management, it may make sense to save the conflicts for other things.

If you do go ahead, I also have one more piece of advice to add to what everyone else is saying. If I were you, I would make sure that Dad is the one doing all of the talking, rule-setting, and giving of consequences. Whether it's "here are your choices" or "these are today's activities" or "you have to sit even if you don't eat" or "do X in exchange for Y" or even "go to your room because you just tried to steal your stepbrother's candy." Whatever it is you guys decide to do, Dad needs to be front and center.

I'm saying this mainly because it may go over better if he sees this as all coming from his father, rather than seeing any of it as being driven by you. He's probably going to resist like crazy anyway, but I would bet that he'll resist even more if he thinks this is your idea. You shouldn't undermine or counter what his father is doing/saying (not that you would), but everything else should be his father's task.

(Oh, and not to cast aspersions on your husband, but I wouldn't take "it's his grandmother's fault" or "it's his mom's fault" as excuses from Dad. I mean, come on. Before you came along, who set the expectation that Dad's time was all video games and eating whatever you want? Your husband was in charge of his time: he contributed to this situation as much as anyone. Of the two of you, he should certainly take full responsibility for cleaning it up.)

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 12:43AM
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We do something similar with my SS, although we have been modifying it lately because I got tired of all the crying and tantrums. He has to sit at the table when everyone else eats and can't get up until we are done. If he doesn't want to eat, then he doesn't eat. But if he doesn't clean his plate, then he doesn't get any food until the next meal. We used to dish out a small amount of every item and he couldn't leave the table till the plate is cleaned. BM is the same.... all junk food. SS threw a fit once because I didn't make hot dogs the right way!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2009 at 9:42PM
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"SS threw a fit once because I didn't make hot dogs the right way!"

I was married to that guy at one time!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 2:54PM
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Ceph is right!!! Just prepare and serve your healthy food. If he eats it great, if he doesn't he'll lose a few pounds. Once he sees that you are standing firm and not running a fast food restaturant he'll eat what's put in front of him.

Had this problem with my own son. When I stopped taking his short orders on what he wanted to eat, let him have a rumbling tummy since HE chose not to eat, he did a lot better.

Good luck. Hang tough and be tough.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 11:15AM
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We have same problem with my 3 SS's. BM feeds them junk all the time. One of the 5 yr old twins commented on Saturday when I gave him his dinner that he was having a hot meal. How sad is that. BM doesn't cook. They live on ready made stuff, sweets and biscuits etc. We gave them no junk on Sunday and BM phoned after they went home to say it was a shame they had no junk and they didn't want to come back. I don't have the answer as it is near impossible when you only have EOW to try with them and BM sides with them

    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 2:18PM
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