Help! My Child Won’t Drink Formula!

We get it: formula sometimes isn’t the best. Despite that, much like medicine, implementing it into your routine when you’re diagnosed with PKU is just a part of life that needs to be conquered. For adults this is a simple reality; you keep up on your formula, you feel good! For children on the other hand, they just might not understand the fact that that nasty drink you make them digest helps them feel better.

Fortunately we had the opportunity to speak to dozens of PKU parents about how it is they manage to get their children on the formula train with as few tantrums as possible. Here are some of their tips.

Change up what the formula is served in/with.

You know how some people say that soda just tastes better in a bottle? It may be the same exact fluid that’s in the container, but what it’s served in can make an enormous difference – your kids might think this too. If your child is having an issue with drinking their formula, change up what you put it in. Usually serve it in a bottle? Swap it out with a glass and see what happens.

This can be particularly useful if your child has a “favorite” cup. These days there are all sorts of decorative cups and glasses out there that children love, and you can make an activity out of it. Head out to your local department store and let your child pick out a special formula cup that’s only used for their formula. Really make it something fun and crazy. Speaking of crazy, another thing you can add is…


…crazy straws. Believe it or not, this was one of the most popular suggestions by our interviewed parents. You’d be amazed how a simple straw can make such a difference in the entire experience. If you’re feeling really fancy, find yourself a crazy straw building kit and make a game out of building one that’ll be used for the formula.

Change the time you give the formula.

This is a simple change that often times gets overlooked, but when you think about it, it makes total sense. The time you give your child their formula can make all the difference in whether they’ll want to drink it or not.

Making something they really like for dinner? Well then, you certainly don’t want to give them the formula right before dinner, since they could end up too full to want to eat much of dinner. Choosing between a favorite dinner and formula isn’t really a hard choice.

Giving the formula after dinner? There’s a pretty good chance they’ve filled their stomach, and pumping that delicious formula into it isn’t exactly comfortable or enjoyable.


For those of you keeping track at home, we’ve got one choice left: between meals. A hectic schedule may make fitting this routine in a little difficult, but if it means the difference between taking the formula or not taking it, it may just be worth a shot.

Make a game out of it.

Everybody likes games, right? Children are no different here, and yes, believe it or not, drinking formula can be turned into a game. This can be done in a few different ways, but the by and large most popular choice was the timer game.

What’s the timer game you ask? It’s simple. Take out your handy dandy phone and your favorite timer app. From here you can go one of two ways:

  1. Set the timer for an amount of time that will count backwards. Get your child excited about this race that’s about to happen, and tell them the goal is to finish the formula before the buzzer goes off. Make it a big show – countdown and and all.
  2. Set your timer like a stopwatch, as if you’re getting ready to time a run. Find yourself a notebook, whiteboard, or something similar and keep track of the time it took to finish the formula. Note these times down, and challenge your child to beat that time every “race”. Cheer them on if they beat their best time!

This may seem silly, but here’s the thing: it’s simple. Sure, the fanfare and show might get a bit tiring – you are throwing a daily race after all – but it comes down again to the idea that if it works it works.

Try bribery rewards.

You may have heard of this tactic being used for completing chores, so it should come as no surprise that it could be useful for getting your child to do something else they don’t enjoy doing. The most popular method of bribery reward that was suggested was a reward board. This can be done with stickers on a calendar, fake dollars, you name it.

The idea is simple. Every time they drink their formula with no issues, they get a (insert pretend currency of choice here) to add to their (insert thing that holds said pretend currency here). After they’ve they’ve gotten an amount that you’ve decided is the winning amount, they get a prize! This can be a trip to the store for a toy, a fun day out, whatever you’d like – as long as it’s an incentive.

There are two main things that must be kept in mind here. For starters, choose an amount of time that’s appropriate. If you make it three consecutive days’ worth, you might find yourself spending all your paychecks on rewards. If you make it a whole month your child might get discouraged after a week because it seems too far away. Find the sweet spot that works for you and your child.

Kick it up a notch

Sometimes the issue is simply that formula doesn’t taste all that great. When a child doesn’t quite understand how necessary it is to be taking their formula on a regular basis, they’re just going to look at it as another gross thing they’re forced to eat that they don’t want to.

In come flavor concentrates.

One of our interviewed parents swore by the vanilla extract method. This supermom said that she found a vanilla extract that was safe for her son to eat, and she’d add a few drops to the formula before he had to take it.

This changed everything.

Formula turned from nasty to delicious with just a few drops, and more like a dessert that was tolerable – and dare we say it enjoyable. Vanilla not exactly your child’s favorite? You can easily find other flavor extracts in health food stores and online that can change formula into a different beast entirely with just a few drops. Obviously, the most important part here is to vigorously scan the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain phenylalanine. From there it’s a matter of experimenting to find which tastes the best!

Finally, when all else fails…

Don’t get mad.

Look, we absolutely understand. It’s frustrating. A regular formula regimen is very important. When a child refuses to take their formula it can, to us, seem like a form of rebelling that can lead to serious consequences down the road.

But they’re not doing it to make you miserable. They’re not doing it because they’ve got a vendetta.

They’re doing it because, frankly, sometimes it’s a little gross. Simple as that.

It’s on you and us as parents to make formula something enjoyable by whatever means we can. It’s easier to help establish a pattern for them now that’ll last the rest of their lives while you’re still in control. Before you know it they’ll be heading off to college and striking out on their own, upon which point crazy straws and bribery just might not do the trick.

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