One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is when people say “I try to help my family get healthy, but they just won’t eat that kind of food.” Hold me back… You aren’t punishing them by giving them healthy food to eat. You are giving them a gift. I have personal experience with a child that was literally “starving” on the typical kid diet of chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, french fries and white bread. This child is my son Luke. We adopted him when he was 2 1/2 years old. He could barely walk, he couldn’t talk- not even one word, and doctors thought he was autistic. When we first brought him home I had him tested by an early intervention center, and he tested at a 8 month old level on everything. Remember – he was 2 1/2 years old. He was so tiny. In fact, the first night I had to bathe him in the sink at our hotel because he was too little for the shower.
He’s Hispanic, so most people ask what country we adopted him from. Well, Luke was from Las Vegas, Nevada. Last I knew, that wasn’t a third world country! He did have a rough start to life – he was born severely premature at 25 weeks. His birth mother was single, with very little money, and very little help. I think it’s a miracle that he lived that first year- feeding tubes, oxygen at night, surgeries… He is a fighter.
But the prematurity wasn’t the only thing to blame. In fact, most kids catch up from a premature birth by 3 years old. Luke was no where near catching up. In the short few hours I had with his birth mom, I found out what they had been eating. Things food stamps would buy – bread, crackers, cereal, bananas, peanut butter. Add in chicken nuggets and french fries and you have his entire food chart. Our first meal with him made me cry. He shoved the food in with two hands, as fast as he could eat (there was no way he was swallowing), until he was sick from eating so much. This continued for many months. He wanted what he was used to – crackers, bread, anything carb-loaded and white. He was eating so much food, and was still so tiny, and so hungry.
That first night I also noticed a strange sound in his belly. We scheduled to see a pediatric digestive system doctor. He found that one of Luke’s early surgeries had failed and his stomach had moved up to where his lungs should be. He had to have major surgery to put everything back where it belonged. After the surgery, they told us his diet would be restricted. He couldn’t eat all those simple carbs anymore – they would go straight through.
This was right about the time I was having some health challenges and was contemplating some serious family diet changes, so the timing was perfect. We added green smoothies every morning, and he liked them. We also started eating more and more vegetables at every meal. He still ate ravenously, but it changed to anything green! He couldn’t get enough broccoli, green beans, asparagus, peas, lettuce… he loved them all. He started avoiding the carbs on his own – he would leave the bread uneaten on his plate. Other things started changing too. He started using sign language, then finally words! He started to grow – not a lot but a little. His motor skills improved and his behavior seemed to mellow some. Something was making a difference.
Luke still has his challenges, but food is no longer one of them. Now he is a thriving 11 year old that LOVES anything green and will eat veggies over anything else he’s offered. He turns down sweets, carbs and most meat. He is small, but he is growing, and I know that it is because he is actually getting fuel, rather than just food. He does well academically, and is not autistic. He is coordinated and has excellent motor skills. He is a different boy than the one eating the standard diet of most American kids.
If I had let Luke “not eat” the food that his body needed, who knows where he would be today. We owe it to our families to help them get the things that they need to be as happy and healthy as they are able, and they deserve. Be tough – it’s worth it! And this is coming from someone who knows.
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