Recently a friend sent me this interview with author and food activist Michael Pollan in which he talks about his son who he describes as a ‘terrible eater’ and his eventual turnaround and discovery of food as a teen. I felt so incredibly validated to discover that even Michael Pollan has struggled with parenting a food-adverse kid that I wanted to share a bit about my own experience here. My son is on the autism spectrum and, like Pollan’s son, has intense sensory experiences that really interfere with his enjoyment of food. This coupled with the fearfulness and inflexibility that are part of his neurological make-up can make the dinner table a battlefield.
I love food. When I am not actually eating, I am thinking about what I am going to cook or eat next. I come from a family where food and eating is celebrated and revered. Opening a CSA box of produce is like Christmas to me—I actually get butterflies in my stomach with the excitement of it. When we started our family, I always imagined our children eating from our garden, acquiring sophisticated tastes at our favorite restaurants, traveling and trying new flavors alongside my husband and me. I naively thought that all I needed to do was place the pureed kale in front of them and the rest would come.
My vegetable-loving daughter has partially fulfilled my fantasy, but even she scowls at a great deal of what I serve. And my son, well, he has turned everything on it’s head. There are days when he gags and recoils from even the most familiar of foods. He is not a child who will only eat chicken nuggets and french fries, but those foods have never really been an option in our household. Other ASD parents often marvel at his favorite foods like pesto pasta and california roll sushi, but, for me, his seemingly ever-shrinking list of acceptable foods feels like a terrible rejection of something I hold incredibly dear. Just eat it, I am continually imploring him. How can he be so afraid of food?
What I have to remind myself is that what I want for him is that he see food and eating as a joyful experience. He is growing and surviving just fine. Battles and bribes have no place at a happy dinner table, and, really, they do so little to expand his palate.
Still, there are days when I am determined to get something green in him. If I have to take the kale and bake it into crunchy kale chips, and then, once those are rejected, crush them in the mortar and pestle and sprinkle them on a trusted and familiar food like popcorn, that’s what I will do. And maybe he will eat it. Today anyway.