My picky eater — thoughts from the Mom of a son with Asperger’s

Ellen and Danny, Hawaii 2005

I was often concerned about Danny’s eating habits. He wasn’t willing to try pizza or pasta until he was 9, and has never tried red meat, fish, or most vegetables. He would have a meltdown if we cooked anything involving fish or olives that he claimed “smelled up the house and caused him pain,” and would be agitated if any prepared meal had anything green on it. As for school lunches, he ate the same thing – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple sauce – every single day for 7 years!

I attributed his picky eating habits to his Asperger’s, but really didn’t understand the problem, and I regret that I initially scolded him for reacting so adversely. Now I know that Danny was, and is, hypersensitive to smells, textures, and flavors, a trait which is not uncommon for those on the spectrum. Certain smells, textures, and flavors, or even the thought of this sensory overload, would cause him to retreat into Defense Mode.

Early on, I would insist that Danny eat what was served, but that didn’t work well at all as he just didn’t eat. I also tried bribing him to try new foods, but that didn’t work either. To keep peace in the family, and to keep him out of Defense Mode before I even knew what Defense Mode was, I became willing to cook separately for him. I tried to keep it simple and if, for example, I made chicken with an elaborate sauce for the family, I’d have some plain cutlets just for him. 

The freezer was loaded with meals, some home-made, that he could just heat up in the microwave. I also always had a decent supply of fresh fruit that he liked, and would dice it just like he wanted. As often as possible, I’d let him decide between a few appropriate choices what he wanted for dinner. And, at the suggestion of his physician, we supplemented his eating with Instant Breakfast drinks (his choice on flavor) to make sure he had the recommended daily calorie and nutrient intake. There were so many issues our family had to help Danny deal with on a daily basis, and we eventually chose to not fight over eating. I suppose this is a good example of “choosing your battles.”

For the past several years, Danny has lived independently and cooks and eats what and when he likes. He eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta, pizza, chicken, turkey, black and pinto beans, rice, turkey or chicken chile, cereal, french fries, pancakes, and fruit. I’m sure this list is not complete, but the point is that he eats enough variety to be healthy. He is much better at taking care of himself when he deicides to do it himself, as opposed to when mom or dad suggest he do it.

He knows a lot about nutrition – at times being obsessed with it – and is now trying some new healthy foods. He is also inspired to try new recipes after watching his favorite cooking shows. And, recently he shared that he actually now likes the previously despised green parsley and cilantro that is often served as a garnish in restaurants. These days he even has a sense of humor about his picky eating and recently sent me a photo of him eating his first carrot!

AN UPDATE: Since I wrote this, Danny has informed me that he now eats spinach, bean sprouts, avocado, and is much more open to trying new foods! Go Danny go!

Want to learn about Defense Mode?

Register for a free online web class, “Out Of Defense Mode: Safe & Secure In The World”
Click here to register

7 thoughts on “My picky eater — thoughts from the Mom of a son with Asperger’s

  1. This is so encouraging. Our 3yo aspie favours white food. But it’s not just the food he is picky with, He will also only eat his dinner in bed. I struggled with this for a long time, but it works. And if it works, it works!

  2. The same thing happened to my kid he is 12 and he doesn’t like to eat food that he has never tried before. He always say disgusting it looks disgusting and it smells bad so I just make him try it and see if he likes it and when he try’s a bite of the food he like it. so you should try that for your kid.

  3. My son is similar he likes cheese but not melted cheese but can have grated cheese on hot food as long as it doesn’t melt. Does not like food mixed up. So if he finds a pea in his chips then he will stop eating. He is willing to try new foods but will over react if he doesn’t like them and if I push him to far he will not talk to me for a length of time sometimes 1 hour to 5 days.

  4. I too have had similar experiences with my now 11yr old daughter Bree. Its a constant struggle with her and other family whose beliefs are, you eat whats put in front of you or you go hungry. I’ve learned to I take one day at a time with those battles. Now with Asperger’s being more common and seeing my daughter and I can relate, it makes it easier for us to learned to cope and how to handle the things that drive us crazy. At last, I want to say thank you for sharing your story. It helps to know we are not the only ones who experience this. Thank you.- Paula

  5. My eldest son, now 13, was diagnosed with Aspergers at a young age. His picky eating habits still drive me a bit crazy but I have gotten used to it over the years. The lack of variety in his dies is compounded by the fact that he’s hi drred with food allergies (dairy, eggs, peanuts) and food sensitivities (high fructose corn syrup, beef). He eats things like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, venison, and some fruits, as well as non high fructose corn syrup ny the gallon. The hardest part is having my parents watch after him, which isn’t often. The way my parents raised me is you eat what’s put in front of you or you go hungry. Well, he’d most definately go hungry! Thanks for your post. It helps me feel like i’m not the only parent that goes through these food issues!

    1. That should have said ‘non high fructose corn syrup ketchup by the gallon’ as well as a frw other typis but you get the jist 🙂


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *