One day the Navigator asked about barley. Yes, the grain. We talked about grains and how they could be cooked, or how they could be dried and ground into flour.
“Like wheat and bread” he said, nodding. I told him that eating the grains in a chunky form was better for the body than grinding up the grains into a powder because a lot of the nutritional value gets ground away. The more ground up the grain is into flour, the less nutritionally good it is, like white bread.
“I like white bread,” he said.
“You like that it is sweet tasting,” I responded with a smile. He thought about that for a moment, and then agreed.
“White flour and white bread no longer have any of the complex carbohydrates in wheat, just the easy to digest sugars. That means it is less nutritious for you.” I explained.
“Don’t you think I look healthy, Mom?” He asked me, a little smugly, straightening up his rail-thin person.
“Sweetheart, you are young and growing, which means you have a high metabolism, so yeah, you look good now on the outside. But you don’t eat very many vegetables or very many grains, and you don’t really exercise. I worry that when you stop growing that will catch up with you.”
Like many children on the autism spectrum, the Navigator had some food issues. He was not one of the children who couldn’t eat gluten or milk, but we definitely tried to avoid too much sugar because it could aggravate sensory overload. He gravitated towards strong flavors, specifically sweet and salty.
It was often not worth the mutual stress to try to get him to eat something he did not like.
He liked salmon and shrimp. He did not like onions. He shared his mother’s dislike of tomatoes. He liked steak (calling it “brown chicken”) and waffles. He liked string cheese and hated brie (“stinky cheese”). He was iffy about Parmesan – one day he liked it the next he wouldn’t touch it. It was the same with pasta.
He would never eat raisins or any dried berries and he would not eat vegetables He called green vegetables – lettuce, broccoli, etc. – trees.
“I won’t eat trees,” he would flatly say. The only green he would eat on a regular basis was roasted seaweed.
Yes, roasted seaweed. Go figure. I was not sure what the nutritional value was, but it was better than cookies, so I was cool with the seaweed.
He liked carrots for a little while. Then he won’t eat them again for months.
He begged me to buy him half a dozen mini-apples, swearing that he would eat them all. Three were left to get wrinkly, eventually used into some other meal. One week he wanted a banana every day, the next week he wouldn’t touch them.
It was a small range of foods that he wanted on a regular basis and it did not necessarily hit all of the nutritional points I would have liked it to.
His asking about his own health and assuming he was healthy because he was thin was a terrific opportunity to start a conversation about food, separate from textures and tastes.
In this arena more than any other, however, I feel as though I can have only a limited impact on his long-term food decisions. In the end, I am afraid he will have to find a balance between his taste sensory needs and nutrition on his own.