At school I ate a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for lunch almost every single day from 1st grade - 10th grade. When I say almost every single day, I mean that I can literally count on both hands the number of days I didn’t eat PB&J.
I was one of the pickiest eaters you can imagine. Everything had to be a certain way. EVERYTHING. I had to have a specific brand of bread. I had to have a certain type of jelly. And if you used the same knife to cut my sandwich that touched anything green, it was game over.
This extended well beyond PB&J. Up until the age of 12, the list of foods I ate were:
- Rice, beans & chicken (Mexican style only)
- Grilled chicken
- Mac & cheese (but only sometimes! Other times it was evil)
- Pasta (But I didn’t try that until I was 6)
- Chili (turkey, beans, tomato sauce, seasoning packet.. That’s it)
- Milk & Cereal
- Waffles & Pancakes
- Pizza (but I didn't try it until I was 12)
That’s about it.
Fast forward to today at the age of 26, this is what I made for dinner a week ago . . .
Appetizer: Quinoa fritters with a tomatillo avocado sauce
Entree: 16 spice chicken with a pumpkin seed & cilantro sauce AND a smoked red pepper sauce
I ate it willingly. It had green on it. And it was delicious.
So how did I go from being a super picky eater… to wanting to go out and explore the world of food?
The short answer: Watching cooking shows and learning to cook.
In order to move from a picky eater to eating a wide variety of food, you’ll need to do several things first:
#1 - Understand why people are picky eaters
#2 - Learn to resolve picky eating issues.
So let’s begin!
Why are people with Asperger’s often picky eaters?
Trust. Or rather, lack of trust. For me, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to try the food (I have always loved good food), it was a simple lack of trust in my ability to “handle/cope with” the new flavors and sensations. It can also be a lack of resources to cope with those new sensations. Defense Mode takes all the resources.
Therefore I always had to be in control. I was *invested* in being in control. Of everything. In essence, people with Asperger’s are often picky eaters because it is an easy way for them to gain control in a VERY scary world. (Often they are in Defense Mode too!)
The other issue about food and trust is that adults often reassure kids that certain foods are delicious, but that is not enough information. In Occupational Therapy for eating (yes, that is a thing) children learn how to evaluate food’s textures with their eyes, ears and nose, their fingers, and their lips before even touching it to their tongue. They learn to touch it with their tongue and how to explore it without committing to eat it. They learn what it feels like, what it looks like when it’s chewed up and what it tastes like.
Knowing *how* to explore food is not really something our society teaches after toddlerhood, and it’s important. We need to play more with our food. Asking our children to put their trust in us when it comes to food is putting the cart before the horse. We have to teach them to trust themselves, not us. We have to teach them the skills to get the information they need to evaluate the situation in which they find themselves. Asking them to trust us is not enough. It starts with them.
How do you resolve picky eating issues?
Once we understand that picky eating is an issue with control & trust, then we design activities around building trust and gaining more control.
The best way to gain trust is to understand more about food. Information and information processing are vital to understanding and then building trust.
For me, that meant watching cooking shows. And not just any cooking shows. Awesome competition cooking shows. Specifically, Cutthroat Kitchen.
I can honestly say, that had it not been for Alton Brown and Cutthroat Kitchen, I would have never learned to trust real food. And if I had never learned to trust real food, I would probably still have a crappy diet for the rest of my life.
And die early. So you could say that Cutthroat Kitchen saved my life.
What is Cutthroat Kitchen you may ask? Imagine a cooking show, where the chefs have various sabotages inflicted upon them by the other contestants. Things like:
We’re taking away all of your knives, cooking tools, pots & pans and giving you only aluminum foil.
We’re cooking soup, but you have to cook it on an upside-down wok.
It is one of the most entertaining shows on television, and how I learned about the different ingredients in food and how to cook them. I highly suggest it. Additionally, it shows people around food in a state of no control, coping with it and doing their best. You see people trusting themselves, as it relates to food, under adversity. You get to see what that experience looks like. It makes it relatable.
Now on the other hand, we have gaining control. This one is easy too! Begin with defining cooking as “preparing food”. That makes it approachable. Cooking is a skill in which many don’t feel confidence. Redefine it.
Then cook more. If you have a child that is a picky eater, cook with them. (Even if the “cooking” just means making cereal or a PB&J). This lends itself to the ability to control temperature, ingredients, textures, and allows you/your child to understand why food is the way it is and what other options are out there.
If you are the picky eater yourself, choose something simple to cook that you already like but usually get when you eat out. Start simple and then add 1 ingredient at a time.
The key is to go slow, don’t overwhelm yourself, and introduce new foods when you feel ready.