My child with Aspergers loves pizza rolls. Problem is that's about all he eats (cheese only - doesn't like pepperoni or sausage). He would eat pizza rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner if we let him. Is there any way to lure him into eating some fruits and/or vegetables?
Most Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children prefer just a few food items. And it can become quite a power struggle for parents when they attempt to get their child to try anything new. However, there are some ways that parents can "sneak" some healthy stuff into their child's belly. Here are a few tips that may work:
1. Don't get hung up on the time of day your Aspergers youngster eats – or how much he eats in one sitting. It is perfectly fine if your Aspie doesn't eat three square meals every day as long as over the course of a week or two he eats a few things from each food group.
2. Concoct creative camouflages. There are all kinds of possible variations on the old standby "cheese in the trees" (cheese melted on steamed broccoli florets), or you can all enjoy the pleasure of veggies topped with peanut- butter sauce, a specialty of Asian cuisines.
3. Make veggie art. Create colorful faces with olive-slice eyes, tomato ears, mushroom noses, bell-pepper mustaches, and any other playful features you can think of. Zucchini pancakes, for example, make a terrific face to which you can add pea eyes, a carrot nose, and cheese hair.
4. Plant a garden with your Aspergers child. Let him help care for the plants, harvest the ripe vegetables, and wash and prepare them. He will probably be much more interested in eating what he has helped to grow.
5. Slip grated or diced vegetables into favorite foods. Try adding them to rice, cottage cheese, cream cheese, guacamole, or even macaroni and cheese.
6. Steam your greens. They are much more flavorful and usually sweeter than when raw.
7. Using a small cookie cutter, cut the vegetables into interesting shapes.
8. Give your youngster acknowledgement and praise, even if he takes only one bite of something new. For example: "It's great that you tried the green beans!"
9. Let go of the power struggle. You can't force your youngster to do anything, especially eat, so just stop trying. Simply offer him nutritious, varied foods – and eat them yourself. He can have his, or not, but you're showing him how. When moms and dads demand that their children eat certain foods, they're attaching negative connotations to it. Pretty soon, the struggle is worse. Put the food on his plate, but if it stays there, don't push him – and don't stress over it.
10. Offer alternatives if your youngster won't eat meat. The texture turns off many Aspergers kids, and that's fine. Your youngster can still get all the protein he needs from the following:
- cheese or even meat-filled ravioli (the pasta exterior goes a long way for meat-haters)
- hard-boiled eggs or any egg dish
- his favorite crackers dipped in hummus or spread with peanut (or nut) butter
- mini-tuna melts
- nachos with beans and cheese
- yogurt, cheese, or cottage cheese
11. Offer choices that don't matter. You may face stubborn insistence that toast have a corner unbuttered to avoid messy hands, or that cereal be served only in a square bowl, or that nothing gets touched by the preparer of the food. While this kind of behavior is seemingly ridiculous, it's typical of Aspergers kids. Offering your youngster a limited choice is often enough to end the power struggle. But make your rules clear: "At home, you can choose your plate, but when we're eating out, you have to use whatever plates they have."
12. You may have to stick with one basic food color. Aspergers children may like a lot of colors in their pictures, but not always on their plates. When he only wants white foods, for example, consider:
- fruit smoothies (blend a banana with vanilla yogurt)
- half white-/half whole-wheat (make toast and sandwiches in fun shapes using cookie cutters)
- mac and cheese made with whole-wheat (or whole-wheat blend) macaroni
- oven-baked fries (half regular and half sweet potato to ease your youngster into the idea of trying other spuds)
13. Be creative with the veggies. Hating vegetables is the most common picky-eater problems with Aspergers kids. To convince your child that eating vegetables is not poisonous, try one or more of the following:
- carrot slices and baby corn are a good start toward more serious veggie consumption
- lettuce wraps (use a filling he'll eat, like turkey or cream cheese, and wrap it in a romaine lettuce leaf)
- put a plate of raw veggies next to a sure thing (e.g., grilled cheese sandwich) to lure your child into eating at least one bite
- thinly sliced veggies stir-fried with teriyaki sauce with a little chicken and rice
- try dressing (e.g., honey mustard, ranch, ketchup, melted butter) with veggies for dipping
- veggie lasagna
- water chestnuts have little taste and can be a good stepping-stone to serious veggies
- zucchini muffins
14. Many Aspergers kids like to “nitpick” their way through food (i.e., a nibble here – a nibble there). Use an ice-cube tray, a muffin tin, or a compartmentalized dish, and put bite-size portions of colorful and nutritious foods in each section. Give these “finger foods” names in order to disguise how disgustingly healthy that may be, such as:
- egg canoes (hard- boiled egg wedges)
- cheese building blocks
- carrot swords (cooked and thinly sliced)
- broccoli trees (steamed broccoli florets)
- banana wheels
- avocado boats (a quarter of an avocado)
- apple moons (thinly sliced)
Place the food on an easy-to-reach table. As your Aspie makes his rounds through the house, he can stop, sit down, nibble a bit, and, when he's done, continue on his way. These foods have a table-life of an hour or two.
15. A veggie pizza is one the most cleaver ways to disguise healthy foods. We tried a spinach-cheese pizza with our 5-year-old several years ago. We knew he probably wouldn’t even touch it – but guess what? It is his favorite food item now! Go figure :)
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook