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Food is Frustrating!

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

We all need some tips to overcome nutrient anxiety from time to time!

My daughter is a picky eater. I understand that not allowing meal alternatives, in the beginning, may have saved me the headaches now, but it is too late. I never meant to back us into this corner of restrictive eating, it happened one meal at a time, and I knew tomorrow I'd do better, over and over and over again.

If I could start our food journey over, I would have been more consistent in pushing variety and refusing flexibility at meals. That is just so overwhelming when your neurodivergent child is clearly hungry and refusing what you offer. However, now I know she'd have eventually eaten what I offered. Instead of nipping the problem in the bud at the onset, dealing with the frustration and overwhelm then, I have extended the overwhelm into middle childhood. Parenting a special needs child can feel like one challenge after another, making it difficult to know when to push through and when to budge. So, I've come up with a few simple tips to cope based on my own experiences.

Tips to Manage the Restrictive Eating

If I had been aware of the reasons for picky eating I could have intervened more effectively. So, I'm here to share what I've learned to help you avoid my mistakes.

  1. Consistency is key! Not just in your dinner time and expectations, but with your food. Kids primarily choose chicken nuggets and French fries over blueberries and chicken breast because of the food's consistency. Some days the blueberry is sour, sometimes it's squishy, sometimes the chicken breast is breaded, sometimes it's seasoned. This makes generalizing the food difficult for autistic children and that unpredictable flavor and texture is physically off-putting. Doing your best to make your healthy meals consistent in texture and flavor will help your child accept them.

  2. Blending fruits and veggies and adding them to smoothies and sauces is an easy way to get added nutrients into your child's diet without struggling with texture. My favorite add-ins are frozen chopped cauliflower to ground beef and blended cooked carrot to spaghetti sauce. There are many additional ideas found online, and this helped my nutrient anxiety immensely when my daughter's picky eating escalated.

  3. Re-vamping your family's meal choices does not have to happen all at once. Finding small ways to make healthier choices over time is better than struggling through big changes. Replacing items and adding new foods takes time to adjust to, and working through one item at a time relieves stress, and gives the palate time to accept things.

  4. There is help. Your family Dr. can connect you with nutrition specialists who can simplify what changes you need to make, or assure you that where you're headed is ok. Attending an ASD support group and asking for recipes and tips can help. There are also a variety of accessible books to find recipes and ideas, my favorites have been - Food Chaining, and The Autism Friendly Cookbook. The internet has a million recipes, but having books that I can work through was easier for me than managing all the things online.

It's a Journey

Food is frustrating. The processed food movement has poisoned our bodies and store shelves, and the opportunity to eat unhealthily is often easier than eating well. If you're feeling overwhelmed, know that you are not alone, and taking small steps will get you where you aim to be over time. Consistency is key, and finding support can make the journey easier and more enjoyable.

Today we are eating crispy chicken cutlets with mashed squash and roasted green beans, and my picky eater is going to complain. She's going to eat the fried onion off the chicken, and only try two beans. It's going to bum me out and I'm going to sigh through it, but those two beans are two more than she would eat one year ago. So, I know the process is slow and bumpy, but I'm in it for the long haul and proud of any progress we make. If you're on the journey with me, I wish you strength and humor along the way!

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