If you’re concerned about the variety of foods your child is eating, one of the best tools you can use when you meet with your pediatrician to discuss the issue is a food inventory. And, if you’re referred on for a feeding evaluation, having a completed food inventory ahead of time will really help the therapist to get some insight into possible challenge areas and causes. First let me jump into how to create a really useful food inventory and then I’ll share a couple of the things it can reveal about a child’s food preferences.
You can’t be too specific
When we think of inventory, it’s an easy analogy to imagine the owner of a craft shop taking an inventory of her merchandise. We wouldn’t expect her to list, “Paint, quantity: 87” because this doesn’t provide enough detail about what is on the shelves. Instead, we might expect something like, “Crafty brand acrylic paint, 2 oz, crimson, quantity: 4.” The good news is that you don’t have to be quite as specific as the shop owner when taking your inventory, but you do have to be specific enough. An entry like “crackers” is really not specific enough because Triscuits and Ritz are both crackers but are very different in a lot of ways. Canned green beans are also a big leap from lightly steamed fresh from the garden beans. Is the yogurt perfectly smooth cotton candy flavored yogurt from a tube or a type with pieces of fruit in it? The differences between these varieties of foods can be very telling about why your child eats one and not the other. You generally don’t have to list specific brands, unless your child will only eat one specific brand of each particular food; in that case, definitely do tell!
When you’re taking your inventory, it’s often helpful to have a template with categories or food groups listed that you keep somewhere handy in the kitchen and can jot down items as your child eats over the course of several days. You can easily create this yourself, or download and print a template like the one below. Here I’ve left a column for foods that don’t easily fit into one of the standard categories and another for dishes that contain a mix of foods.
Bring the completed inventory to your appointment(s)
It’s true that many children go through stages of “pickier” eating during toddlerhood and the preschool years. Some “grow out of it” (I don’t really love this phrase, but it serves the purpose for now) and some continue down a road of more and more selective eating. Because many kids do go on to have an acceptable variety of foods after a period of time, your medical provider might reassure you that your child’s picky eating is normal. Even a great doctor who really cares about your child has a lot of ground to cover during a routine well visit and might not be very concerned, especially if your little one is keeping to his growth curve. But, if you bring in your food inventory and entire categories of food are absent or nearly absent, that’s more likely to raise a red flag that you’re dealing with more than “typical picky eating” and result in a referral for more help.
This inventory will also provide valuable information to your feeding therapist. From looking at the example above, I can see that there are no foods on this inventory that require mature chewing skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the child has impaired chewing skills, but it will definitely be something to consider. Everything listed also has a relatively uniform and cohesive texture which tells me that there could be sensory and/or motor reasons for such a preference. Finally, when working with the family to determine goal foods to introduce in therapy, we have a good idea of which categories we might want to target and what might be good stepping stones to help reach those goals.
Sometimes when I ask parents to make a food inventory they are actually surprised by how many different foods their child does eat. Sometimes they’re surprised by how few. No matter what, it’s usually an informative and worthwhile activity.
Have you made a food inventory for your little eater? Was there anything that surprised you? Have you used a food inventory to talk to a doctor about your child’s eating? Please share in the comments! I have a printable version of my food inventory available for my newsletter subscribers! I’d love to give you a copy; just get in touch using my contact form.