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Planning dinner around an asperger appetite

Updated on March 23, 2011

we can't eat pizza EVERY NIGHT!!

"Can I have pizza?" is a question I hear on an almost daily basis. On the days pizza is not being requested, my son is asking for fast food. I cannot believe with the amount of times I tell him no, he continues to ask me for these foods.

My son has Aspergers Syndrome, so he has a difficult time trying new foods. We have been able to encourage him (with bribery) to try something, but he usually will take one bite, say it is good and then ask for the food he is comfortable with. Food is a problem for my son because he has sensory issues which has him to feel textures in ways that many people do not. He will find certain foods uncomfortable to look at and absolutely repulsive to put in his mouth. Mealtime is a challenge in our home.

For years, we gave in to our son's requests, we totally admit that. We were going through the mourning stages. We were mourning the loss of the child we thought we had. We just did anything we possibly could to make him happy. He was a picky eater, so we gave him the food that made him happy. We have always been fortunate that we can get him to eat some fruits and vegetables. but the only meat we can get into our son is chicken tenders or nuggets that are cooked in a restaurant, not even in our home. Obviously the problem is with the way I cook the chicken. I do not deep fry it. I bake it or grill it. That is not the way my son wants to eat it. However, he is almost 14 years old and seriously needs to eat healthier. His brother and his sister eat grilled foods, whole grains and yogurt. They drink water instead of juice on most occassions and enjoy sports and physical activities. That is not to say they do not like chips and other junk food, but they are well aware of the fact that these foods should be limited.

My asperger son would eat pizza, chicken tenders, french fries, waffles, chips, cookies, popcorn and cheerios all day everyday if we let him. He will drink an entire bottle of apple juice if I do not monitor his intake. It is very difficult. I want our family to eat together and to eat a well balanced, healthy meal. He is the oldest, it has taken alot of time and effort to get the younger children to eat better, they were following his lead, but fortunately have become more health conscience.

I will make a nice meal of grilled chicken, pasta, peas and salad. The family will sit down and have plenty to eat. My oldest, however will look at the food and say "I want pizza." We then have to reason with him that he cannot have pizza every night. He will next move on to "can't we have fast food?". which gives him the same answer. This is what we are eating. He will either say he is not hungry or if it is a bad day, he will revert to what he would do when he was younger and have a nice meltdown.

Many people can ignore meltdowns and go about their business. I have always had a hard time with it because he is the oldest and the other children are watching. They will try to intervene and I do not want anyone to get to hurt. I also cannot stand his crying and screaming especially after a long day. I also do not want him to cry over food. It just doesn't make any sense to me. But he has to eat healthier and cannot have the foods he choose everyday because it is not good for him.

So we compromise. He is certainly old enough to contribute to the menu of the day. I ask him what healthy foods he would like me to have on the table for him., We have been able to come up with some foods that he finds acceptable. He actually gave in and tried the grilled chicken recently. He did not eat an entire cutlet, but he ate some, did not complain and seemed to like it. Its a step.

So I make sure I have peas, green beans or raw carrots available for him at mealtimes. Those are the vegetables that he has chosen at this time. If everyone else wants to eat another vegetable, he can still have one of those in a bowl on his own. He likes pasta and I have been able to sneak in some of the healthier blends of pasta as long as he cannot see the difference. He will eat grilled cheese now rather than always peanut butter and jelly. He will eat a scrambled egg rather than always having waffles or french toast. We have researched about carbohydrates and he is aware that he has to keep better track of his intake.

Still, whenever we leave the pediatrician's office, he sees the restaurant nearby and asks if we are going there. Whenever we leave his therapists office which is near yet more fast food, he asks if we are going there. He looks for pizza several times a week. I keep saying no, except on certain days when we DO go out to eat and it is his choice where we are going. Then he gets what he has been asking for, within reason.

Something as simple as dinner can be a struggle for a family that has a special needs child. I must hide the juice or he will drink every bit that I have in the house in one day. Not only is that a problem because we are not out of juice, but it is not good for his health. I have to keep my eyes on him whenever there is a pizza around because he will eat the entire pie, all eight slices if I do not monitor him. It isn't even because he is that hungry, it is obsessiveness, the need to have what he wants no matter what the cost.

It may seem silly to those who are reading this. Many are noting that I should just let him have what he wants. However, it isn't realistic. Our child has to live in a world where people do not think like him. The challeges are greater for him than anyone else. Something as simple as exploring a proper diet and understanding that sometimes we have to get past what makes us uncomfortable in order to grow can make all of the difference.

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