For the first time in the history, overweight and obesity are increasingly prevalent in the general pediatric population. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, evidence suggests that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may be at even higher elevated risk for unhealthy weight gain, with differences present as early as ages 2 to 5 years. To make matters worse, these results clearly indicated that the prevalence of unhealthy weight is significantly greater among children with ASD compared with the general population.
A study published in 2008, by The U.S Library of Medicine’s National Institution on Health, listed childhood obesity as a culprit- affecting nearly one-third of the U.S. children, and the prevalence of these conditions has increased at least four-fold since the 1970s.
Obesity in ASD may be particularly problematic for a variety of reasons. First, core symptoms of ASD may be naturally related to weight problems: for instance, children with ASD may lack social motivation to participate in family meals or in structured physical activities with other children and those parents may be more likely to use food as a reward in children with ASD due to lack of social motivation. The severity or type of a child’s symptoms may also affect his or her ability to participate in physical activities that might mitigate weight gain. Still, little is known about the prevalence that correlates to overweight youth and among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Today, it is still unclear whether risk factors for obesity in ASD are the same or different from risk factors for children generally.
Living in a world of processed and high caloric food choices- today, more than ever, it is important that we all start to pay closer attention to what our children are eating and when. Easier said than done. Right?
Good nutrition and children with autism rarely go hand in hand easily. Often, parents who are responsible for mealtimes within a ASD family- concentrate what the neuro-normality world does not. ASD Parents live with higher demonstrations of restricted eating, and repetitive behavior patterns with food. ASD parents are also faced with a higher intake of low-nutrition, energy-dense foods. Parents usually give in, and pick their battles elsewhere. Can’t say that I blame them. I’ve done it myself.
But to make things more stressful, we all know – it all stops here, with us – the parents.
As if our jobs are not hard enough, we add a picky or selective eater to our daunting- ever-growing line-up of duties. Somedays it seems as though we will never win the food fight battle, let alone score a few points in our favor.
For many parents, loading healthy nutrition into your picky or selective eaters diet will always be source of a meal time battle. Because Autism affects each child uniquely, we all need to run our own battery of food testing on our own child. For some children it’s all about sensory issues -which can make introducing new and nutritious foods extremely hard for parents. If that isn’t complicated enough, dealing with children who like repetition and routines each day, provides another interesting challenge. Oral sensitivity issues can also make this difficult situation worse.
If you are a new parent of an ASD child, or a seasoned ASD parent, but need to make a nutritional change- please ask your doctor before starting any new food regiments. Most ASD families find going gluten and casein free really helps. Lose fast-food as quickly as you can. Try to stay dye-free and offer organic, minimally processed food replacements. Make this part of the whole families repertoire. Read labels. Cook at home any chance you have. Avoid highly proceeded foods at all costs.
Identifying food allergies. If children are reacting certain foods, pay close attention to this. Usually, if a child reject a certain food- it’s because the body is speaking. Your child’s body will naturally reject certain foods for a myriad of reasons. Pay close attention to those cues. Maybe your child is pressing his belly against the dinner table. This might signal a belly-ache. Whatever is causing these reactions, – these food should stay off the menu forever. Your child’s body will naturally attacks a food it identifies as harmful, causing symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, intestinal integrity, shortness of breath, hives. With food intolerance, the digestive system alone rejects the food, finding it difficult to digest properly. Follow the food cues.
Think back on what your child repetitively eats. Maybe it’s a fast food item. Something before you realized it’s time for a change. Identify that item. Begin to build other foods to look like it. The shape, as well as the color. Example: Making homemade organic baked chicken tenderloins shorter and breaded in GF breadcrumbs to look like the fast food chicken nuggets you are trying to wean him off. Take all the time you need. Make sure this process is moving at the speed your child is absorbing the solution. Take each step a day at a time or once a week- on the same day each week. Always prepare your child and NEVER lie or be deceitful and sneaky about food- this approach can create more challenges for you down the road and not only about food, but trust issues. If you are hiding food within the recipe – tell them, just select the right time-and that certainly is not before they eat it.
How to Introduce a New Food to a Selective Eater.
- Start a food journal. Inside the food journal, build a list containing two columns. In the first column list the foods that your child enjoys eating. Use the other column, to list a healthier alternative for each food listed in the first column. Keep another list on the dates the foods where offered.
- Remember, children are always watching and listening, even if you think they are not. Your families words and actions can make or break just about anything. Spread the message among the family members regarding your new food-fight strategy.
- Eat the desired new food while sitting next to your child and comment, how delicious the food tastes while you have your child’s attention, and the child is observing you eating and enjoying the new food. Remember- if you are not eating it, don’t expect your child to.
- Inflict Peer Pressure. Have a friend of the child, or a highly reinforcing person eat the food next to the child and make positive comments. Again, make sure your child is actually paying close attention.
- During therapy, downtime or homework hour. Place a photo of the desired food into the mix of whatever the child is working on. Make the food photo like a visual, tactile flashcard. Not a photo from your phone. One photo flashcard for each new food. Use one at a time or a few depending on your child. You know your child’s tolerance levels best. Play a flashcard game. Look at the food picture, and talk about the new food. The foods name, what it tastes like, and how delicious it is. Where it comes from, and who else eats it.
- When you have cycled through a few flashcard activities, add the actual real food to the flashcard line up. Just touch it, look at it, feel it and discuss how delicious it tastes. Include discussing ways of how people cook and eating the new food. Describe and identify textures.
- Once you have cycled through the flashcard game enough times, and the child has actually seen the new food, now is the time to place a small amount of the new food on a plate close by to the child’s plate during family meal times. Point to the new food and discuss it. Talk about how delicious it is, and allow the child to see you eat it, and enjoy it. Do not make the child touch or eat the food.
- Place a small amount of the new food on the child’s plate with his regular meal. Make sure this is a not a surprise and create a no pressure zone. Tell the child ahead you are putting the new food on the plate-using the name of the food, and telling the child they do not have to eat the new food, but they need to tolerate the food sitting on his plate during the course of the mealtime.
- Place the same food item on the child’s plate and during mealtimes, tell the child he needs to touch the food. Tell the child they do not have to eat the food, it just needs to be touched with a finger once during the mealtime.
- Continue the process until the food is tasted. Remain patience.The process of adding a new repertoire of foods won’t happen over night, but it will happen.
By the end of a four, to eight month period, depending on your child -you might have them eating many foods from the new, healthy food list column you originally designed- including organic a grass fed, nitrate free hamburger meats, new, healthier variations of chicken or fresh fish nuggets, and lots of real fruits and vegetables in their natural form.
Each child is different. Be patient- in the long run, you and your family will find peace of mind that you will eventually be free from all the additional health issues associated the negative aspects of eating highly processed foods.
Little Lulu’s Lemon Basil Meatballs
These lemony, basil meatballs instantly became such a big hit with eaters that have slow-acting taste receptors. If your child is a fast-food chicken nugget eater. Try shaping these into the same chicken nugget shape.
1/3 cup GF soft, breadcrumbs
Zest from one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 lb. freshly ground chicken (light and dark meat) or ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne chili
1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
12 large fresh basil leaves
1 small white onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Lemon garlic sauce ( recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350’F. In mini food processor add the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne, parsley, basil, and onion. Process to a paste.
In a large bowl, add ground chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Add ingredients from food processor, add the egg and the GF breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly with clean hands. Shape into 20, 1-1/2-inch meatballs.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the meatballs. Do not crowd the pan of they will steam and not brown well. Allow to brown, turning gently, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a lined non- stick surface on a baking sheet. Place in preheated oven for an additional 10-minutes until cooked though. While meatballs are cooking hough in the oven make the Lemon Garlic sauce (see recipe below). Remove from oven with temperature reaches internal temp of 140’F and juices from the meatballs run clear. top with Lemon Garlic sauce. Serve with GF pasta or eat alone.
Makes approximately 20 meatballs
Lemon Garlic Sauce
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
Zest from 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced to paste
Pinch of garlic salt
4 large basil leaves ( chopped at the last minute before serving)
2 springs flat leaf Italian parsley, leaves only
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant. Add parsley, lemon juice, garlic salt and continue to cook over medium heat until warmed through. Mince the basil and parsley together at the very last minute, add to the sauce, swirl to release flavor. Adjust seasoning to your preference with additional salt and pepper. Spoon the topping over the meatballs. Serve immediately.