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My Picky Eater

Ellen Raede



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:  I wrote this a few years ago, and now eats spinach, bean sprouts, avocado, and is much more open to trying new foods!  But, he's still picky!


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I really appreciate your insight as a mom of a son. It sounds like you managed to get him to try more variety than we've pushed through. I was raised by a mom that thought we must eat at certain times and try everything that was family style on the table. Obviously that created control issues with food. Luckily we let our son choose his foods from the "healthier" versions of pastas, sweets, chips, etc. That Danny is so articulate in understanding himself and able to create this with colleagues and in a manner that reaches this "niche"group in a way "people from the outside" just cannot relate is a big deal to anyone who "is on the inside". Thanks Mom.

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Thanks for sharing. Our son was super picky and could not watch other children eat so during elementary school, he sat at a desk that faced the wall during lunch. By high school, he was eating lunch with friends, thank goodness! The secret for him was learning to cook. We started teaching him to cook at about age 9 or 10 and always made a big deal out of how good it was. He loved the praise and started looking up recipes for us to try. He became obsessed with his recipe collection, lol, and pushed me out of my comfort zone in the kitchen. He still will not eat peas or rice, however.

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Thankyou for your blog , my son has just turned 18 , he has only ever drank water & people find it odd that he has never tried even a mouthful of juice , soft drink or alike. If you place a drink in a cup & then tip it out and give a quick rinse without him seeing , he still will not drink out of it . I feel he has such a severe case of sensitivity.  He is about to start Tafe and I’m sure he will take his salami sandwiches with the crust cut off , just like he has done every school day since kindergarten. I am beyond the judgemental adults that over the years have told me that I just have to force him to eat certain foods. Like you said there is so much more to be working on. 

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I also find when we play our favorite (folk) musicians in the background while we eat, the watching others is not at all an issue. Also, we put candles on our table and when our son wants can light them for meals. He loves to wear an apron when baking. The point, finding a calming element while doing. My son is still a very picky eater, but he chooses what to eat (among the healthy (few) favorites that he likes (we buy)). Every once in a while he surprises us by seeing something in a show or from a book and says..."let's try mushrooms" or "garlic"'...so we offer it alone as a try and with a food he likes (grain pasta). Sometimes we end up eating, other times he "loves" it, then won't eat it again.

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On 1/22/2020 at 2:06 PM, Ellen Raede said:

You're very welcome.  It tooks/takes a lot of patience!


This is very interesting . I do wish I had seen this site earlier. My son had to go to an eating disorder clinic because he was misdiagnosed with adhd put on stimulants that took his appetite away and he was a picky eater already. It narrowed the field to nothing until we had a correct diagnosis of Aspergers and selective eating and anxiety. Now he eats a healthy balance but is obsessed with nutrition and never missing the balance he has created in his diet and exercise routine. Many people in our family have both of these and it has been helpful to me as a parent hearing their stories. It was something no one talked about or knew about until my son’s struggle made them all realize it was a family struggle and they were no longer alone. Eating the same thing every day is better than not eating at all. Most people have opinions they feel compelled to share with moms without understanding it isn’t the mom’s “ fault” if her child struggles with food . This is a positive group for moms to be in! Thank you 

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Do you know  about A.R.F.I.D. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder? Our daugher with Asperger has problems with eating , since she was very ill (Rhota virus) when she was about 2 years old, she nearly died and had a lot of medication. After that she refused to eat. I had her on astronot pills and all kinds of drinks. Very slowly she learned to eat a little bit again, but uptil today, 25 years later, she has  a restictive food disorder. For years I spoke to doctors, food specialists etc, but they always said it was not bad enough and she did look well, so why did I worry.  I just found out about A.R.F.I.D. and I am happy her eating problems are acknowledged by the doctors now. She is seeing a Orthomoloculair Therapist now and she is waiting for the test results from the Lab. I do hope this will help her find out what is going on in her body, which foods she should or should not eat and if she has any other problems like Gluten intollerance, parasites or allergies, hopefully none, which supplements/probiotics she can take to fill the gaps. Thanks for listening.

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