I was browsing some of my favorite Autism links online and I came across a new article about 'Autism and Defining Clinical Nutrition,' along with a comment section. Now, it wasn't so much what the article had said that sparked the topic I'm going to spin off on, but the comments that came after it that sparked my urge to write. Most of the comments were along the lines of how their kids were so picky or texture driven that they were in a constant battle to get them to eat, much less eat healthy. I really get where these parents are coming from, as my oldest son is a picky eater and has texture issues. Trust me, getting my son to eat pancakes if they were not made to his texture requirements is a challenge. Before I understood what was going on in his little body I would usually be thinking, "It's just a pancake, so what if I cooked it a little to long on one side, eat it!"
Well, that is the way most parents think before taking this journey down the road with a kid that has texture issues, Autistic or otherwise. It has taken a long time to understand what sets him off about a certain food so that I can avoid the confrontation during the meal. As most time pressured moms, I love to make one pot meals. What's better than throwing everything in a pot, setting the timer, stirring here and there, and dinner is ready. I have had to learn that my son doesn't like his food to have sauce on it or other bits from other foods touching. Chili, forget it. When I did do Hamburger Helper, no way. Beef stew, nope. The Hungarian Goulash I made two nights ago, not unless you clean off his potatoes first. It was so much easier when he was a baby, because everything was the same texture and he didn't know any different.
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things he loves that most kids his age wouldn't touch. The child loves tofu. I usually cook it in Nabemono (Japanese style of cooking everything in one pot called a Nabe, which I'll post some recipes later) or I have to dust it with a little potato starch and deep fry it. He loves whole foods such as apples, oranges, tomatoes, and baby carrots. I've had to just take the American diet blinders off and try all sorts of things with him to see what he'll eat. He loves to eat nori cut into pieces and eaten like chips. Sushi is a favorite, but don't try to give it to him with real sushi rice; just plain rice, a few little bonito flakes, and rolled in a sheet of nori, thank you. He eats dango plain. I love dango, but I personally think that just rice flour shaped into a dumpling is too boring without the sweet syrup. He has to have ketchup on all his meat or he wont touch it. It doesn't matter that it already has sauce on it.
Now that he is almost 7, I have learned most of his quirks, but that doesn't mean I don't try to introduce new things. I'm still trying to get him to eat chili and stew without having to pull out each food item and have it separated on his cafeteria style plate. I still try to put a few cooked carrots on his plate before giving him the raw ones, bribing him to get at least a few down before I do. He has been the reason that I make the gluten free foods that I do. I don't know if it has to do with genetics, but he is the one that has pulled us towards Asian style foods more than my husband or even my own tastes did. He just does better with these flavors than American or even Italian ones (notice I still have an Everyday Italian cookbook). I make a sweet potato biscuit that I tried with miso soup instead of milk one time, and he ate them up so fast that I still make them at least every couple of weeks just to make him happy. He's also my baking tester. If he doesn't like a new recipe I've been working on, forget it, you won't find it on this blog.
So to all you parents out there that are struggling with picky eaters and their texture issues, I know where you are coming from. Hang in there and hopefully you'll find the textures and tastes that your kid favors the most. Eventually you'll be able to use that to expand their menu little by little, then these articles about the importance of kids and good nutrition won't make you feel like such a guilty parent. Trust me, there are still more days than I want to admit, where he doesn't eat much more than plain rice. Give him a couple of days and he'll be eating me out of house and home like a typical kid. Also, if you have an Occupational Therapist, they may have some ways to help get your kid to try things with textures in ways you would never think of. It all will balance out eventually as long as you don't loose heart and give up.