I hate that question. It can ruin a perfectly good day and set my whole evening into chaos. Let’s start with the “chosen” challenge—I eat very little meat and what I do eat needs to be organic, or preferably grass fed. I live with two carnivores (hubby and older son). Now throw in my ASD picky eater. Holy cow…you find a dish we will all eat! I have started buying organic meat and buy grass fed when I can, so that solves that problem. The picky eater is left….
As you may or may not know picky eating and ASD kind of go hand in hand. Not all ASD kids are picky, but most have some quirk to their diet. There are texture and consistency issues, color issues, temperature issues, and flavor and smell issues. Some kids have difficulty if their plate, cup or utensil changes or if they have to sit in a different chair. Some kids only eat brown foods (chicken nuggets, fish sticks, fries) while others will only eat things that are crunchy. And just because they eat it once does not mean they will eat it again. You get the idea…..
Our little brick goes on food jags. He really will eat most things. He eats all textures (crunchy, soft, chewy), consistencies (puree, smooth, mixed, thick), extreme hot or cold doesn’t bother him (any more that a NT child). Some flavors and smells do seem to be stronger to him than the rest of us, but all in all he does well. Except….he eats one or two things for ages on end.
We are currently on pasta (he prefers long noodles like spaghetti or fettuccini, but will eat any) and white sauce. Not Alfredo sauce…white sauce like from Kobe or Benihana. A couple weeks ago was fried clams, before that fried shrimp, before that Bunny-Oh’s, before that scrambled eggs with white sauce. We had a fish stick jag, a chicken fingers jag and on and on. Sometimes it’s a new food he’s tried and liked, sometimes we don’t know where the new choice comes from.
We used to get all worked up about meal time. I made my own baby food. We introduced the kids to all kinds of foods early on and as a toddler my brick was a great eater! What happened?? I fought and fought. “Eat 5 bites.” “Eat all your pasta and 3 bites of veggies.” “If you don’t eat you get nothing else.” “If you don’t eat this you will have it for breakfast and every meal until it’s gone.” We did it all; threaten, bribe, beg. Then I took a book based professional development class on feeding. The author said “Parents are responsible for what (food) is presented and the manner in which it is presented. Children are responsible for how much they eat and even whether they will eat.” (Ellyn Satter from How to get your child to eat…but not too much) This really hit me hard. As an SLP who has done more feeding therapy than I care to admit, I was telling parents this already. Why can’t I just take my own advice?
Knowing that I did not want this to become a major behavioral/power struggle, and that his meds cause him to not be hungry at our typical dinner time, I started to practice what I preach. We made a list of foods our little brick had eaten and liked. We made a menu of sorts for breakfast and lunch options. Things we typically have and are easy to make so he can choose. That doesn’t always mean he will eat it, but at least we have a better shot. Then we made a dinner rule. You eat what is prepared or you make your own—from the pre-agreed upon list of healthy foods. Our son is 10 now and loves to cook and be in the kitchen. He is quite capable of making a large variety of things. Initially, I had to help a bit, but he was taking the initiative and not arguing. He doesn’t get as many vegetables as I would like, but he eats a lot of fruit. It is not perfect. He is not getting an ideal assortment of vitamins and minerals, but I give him a multivitamin to make up for that.
It works for us. Meal time is much more positive and happy. Instead of arguing and begging and bribing, we have conversations and discussions. I slip once in a while, when I realize he hasn’t had a veg in more than a week but I am better. And, I think, he is eating better too.