I've talked about autism and the gut before; about how there is a high number of individuals with autism who have gastrointestinal troubles. I talked about trying the gluten free diet for our son with autism, and how we noticed a big difference in his behaviour, so he's going on 7 years with the diet.
One thing I haven't talked about is his nutrition. Just what he eats. When we put Caleb onto the gluten free (and at the time, also a casien free) diet, he was only 3, and ate a lot of what he was given. Fruits and veggies, meats, nuts and seeds, rice and quinoa, a really good variety. The only things he didn't really like were casseroles; I think the food being all together in one dish was alarming to him (...my husband feels the same way!).
Then, somewhere between that point and about a year ago, Caleb had whittled away at his food list until there was only a handful of things he would eat. Apples. Romaine with italian dressing. French fries. Yogurt. Toast. Cereal. Gluten-free pretzels. Popcorn. And sweets.
It was very difficult for many reasons: one, I had become that Mom who was making a separate meal for my picky child. Caleb's aversion to food seemed like more than just a 'picky' child. He would literally gag, and cry, and often, eventually, would have a serious, screaming, kicking, full on melt-down. Those dinner time meltdowns would often leave his sisters crying, and I would have no appetite.
Secondly, it made being invited anywhere difficult. We were always having to pack him a bunch of things, even if the people we were going to made a point of having a gluten free meal. If it wasn't from his tiny little list, he wasn't going to eat it. We felt like we were being rude; they went out of their way to prepare something he could eat, but we let him 'get away' with eating what he wanted. We weren't going to let him gag and throw a fit at someone else's house though, that's for sure!
Lastly, his nutrition worried me a lot. He was (and is) taking a multi-vitamin everyday, for a while he was taking a child's omega capsule every day, but I knew that the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need is through food. Real food.
I needed a plan...but where do you start with a kid who is actually about to barf when certain things touch his tongue?
I tried bribery. Judge if you want to, but I am not above bribery to get something out of my kids! We started the "if you eat this (fill-in-the-blank-dinner item), you can have this (fill-in-the-blank-treat). You know a kid really, really doesn't like something where even that doesn't always work! It worked for some things though, like pasta with sauce (well, first pasta with parmesan, then we upped it to sauce). Sometimes it would take him an hour to get through a small bowl of noodles, and his treat would have to be where he could see it so we could keep reminding him with the visual cue. Sometimes this back-fired though, and he couldn't (wouldn't) eat something, then he was very upset about not getting the treat. Not fun.
Then, something crazy happened.....dear, sweet Caleb loves Pickle Fries from Fast Eddies, but because we live far away from the world of Fast Eddies (it's mostly a south western Ontario thing), I thought I would buy that completely un-healthy, MSG laden popcorn seasoning in dill flavour. It is literally the same stuff Fast Eddies puts on their fries! Even though he likes popcorn, I started putting it on the kids popcorn once in a while as a treat. This was just last summer, and we were having corn on the cob a lot, which Caleb (c'mon, guess...) hated! Then I thought back to all those 'fancy' corn on the cob recipes with spices, and different things, and offered Caleb corn on the cob-with dill pickle popcorn seasoning (I know, yuk!). But, he ate it! He sniffed it, licked it, then finally took a bite! I knew how bad that popcorn seasoning was, but I really didn't care! He was eating a 'new' food!
So, during last summer, we added dill pickle popcorn seasoning to a ridiculous amount of food! BBQ chicken, hardboiled eggs, steak....literally most meats we ate! We tried some more veggies, but he was still not biting (pun intended). He did start eating potatoes though (I know fries are potatoes, but deep fried, fast food fries are really not an ideal veggie option!) We were o.k. with that, we wanted him to start eating more proteins, and he was. We slowly got him 'off the seasoning' by using less and less of it, and finally by just putting the food on his plate with no seasoning, and telling him it was all gone (which it was, thank the Lord!), and we would offer him salt, which he would use.
What's my point...? My point is this, if you are concerned about the things your child eats (or doesn't eat), pick one thing, and work there first. Don't make family meal time a battle either. I'm not a fan of the never ending parental fighting and "you eat this bite, or else...". Learn what your child likes, and start there. Add to it, use it to your advantage. For instance, Caleb now likes pasta with meat in his sauce. We got him to that point by really cooking it up so teeny-tiny he didn't know it was there at all, and eventually he grew to like the taste and texture, and now lets me cook it normally. Heck, he even requested meatballs!
I also started hiding veggies in the sauce (and in other foods). Steam some carrots, or cauliflower, or bake some squash, puree it, and add it to your pasta sauce. Is it sneaky? Yes! Is he eating more veggies? Yes. Will I hide veggies in his food forever? Nope. But for now, it is getting him some extra vitamins and minerals, and keeping family supper time scream free! I have to remember that not too long ago he wouldn't eat noodles, or sauce, or meat at all!
After the dill seasoning was gone, Caleb's tolerance of eggs faltered, and he wouldn't eat them for a long time. What turned him around was us having chickens! He was fascinated/amazed by the fact that we had chickens who laid us eggs, which we got to eat! I'm not telling you to buy a chicken so your picky eater will eat eggs, but a lot of kids are interested in where food comes from. So, grow some veggies, go to a farm, find a YouTube video, just make food interesting, not a fight!
Another thing to consider/remember is to give your child a fair shot at pleasing you and eating better. My middle child is a mousey little eater. So, would it be fair for us to load up her plate, then force her to stay at the table until she finished all her food? I don't believe it is. We put food on her plate, knowing it is a reasonable amount for her, giving her the chance to succeed! It makes meals pretty enjoyable!
And when all attempts are failing? Make your kids a milkshake! No, not a real milkshake with loads of ice cream, but a smoothie "milkshake". Lots of people are making green smoothies these days. Not all kids will find green smoothies appetizing though....so, I simply added some cocoa powder! Suddenly my kids all wanted a "milkshake": kale and spinach, ground flax seed, avocado, a banana and either pineapple or mango, maybe some kiwi, throw in some berries, then a few tablespoons of cocoa powder (don't forget liquid: milk, almond milk, coconut water, or regular water. You could use juice too, but make sure it's real juice, not loaded with sugar juice!), and suddenly it's chocolate! Sort of! At first I hid the fact that I was cramming their "milkshake" with healthy things, but I gradually let them start helping me so that they now realize that healthy can also be super-duper yummy!
Special needs or not, children need to be well fuelled for their life! Geepers, they are so full of energy, and sillies, and they need good food in their tanks! But, another important thing is that these kids will eventually be adults who need to think for themselves, and make food choices on their own. If Caleb grows up still hating all fruits and veggies besides apples and romaine, but I know he can put a blender-full of goodness together that he will enjoy, I will be happy with that! It's about patterns, about teaching, about not making food a war, and about trying our best to give our children the best, so that they can be their best.
Does Caleb still eat fries, and sweets, and not so good food? Sure he does. But through years of trial and error, being patient and trying tricks, we are now making normal (for us) family meals that we will all eat. No bribery needed.
Hi, I'm Amy-Lyn!
I am the lady behind this here blog! I live in the sticks with my animals, my super handsome husband, and my
3 amazing kids!
Here you'll find things from recipes (gluten-free, paleo, and strait up junk food!), DIY ideas, thoughts on raising a son with autism, and whatever else pops into my brain! : )
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