Yeah… Me too..! I feel your pain! You just want your loved-ones to eat and stay healthy. Am I right?
Let’s just be real here. When there are different things going on like Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder , and more, there can be a myriad of reasons for the inability to eat only certain foods, or avoiding certain foods! It is not always just as simple as they “just do not like certain foods”. Making them eat ONLY what you make for a meal, when it involves very real sensory issues, can actually backfire and cause even more issues to deal with! Yes, I am speaking from experience here…
I have one child who refused to eat several meals for almost a month, and lost too much weight (which I did not realize until we went to the doctor for a checkup). Then, I got into trouble with said doctor for not feeding him well enough (then they sent us to a dietician for “monitoring” – this was also before we knew he also had Celiac and was losing weight easily because of that)! This was back when he was very young (16 or 17 years ago – at about age 3), and I was in the beginning of figuring out our journey with the kiddos. I took some well-meaning friends and family’s “get tough advice” to heart. Unfortunately, this child would actually starve himself (still will), rather than eat something he could not even look at (let alone put in his mouth without vomiting)! Believe me, I am appalled at myself for letting it go that far, when I look back on the whole situation. Live and learn. **sigh**
In my household of six, there are four diagnosed Autistic Spectrum people (that used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome, and they prefer to refer to themselves as Aspies), with two of those also diagnosed with ADHD (1 Inattentive, and 1 Hyperactive), and one diagnosed with just ADHD – Combined Type (that would be me), so far. All six of us also have different sensory issues! Everything ranging from visual overstimulation, to sound sensitivities, to vestibular (balance body system) under and over-sensitivities, to touch issues, to issues with (yep, you guessed it) food textures, tastes, and/or colors, and more!
So, as you may expect, it can be very challenging (and limiting) to come up with menus for my family, that everyone will eat! Sometimes, there comes a time where adjustments (or accommodations) just have to be made, if I want my family to stay healthy (and not be traumatized – you will see what I mean soon!). Add on top of all of this, that we all have Celiac, and we must eat a gluten-free diet. The results can quickly become disastrous for health, and growth (Okay, I do actually have ONE of my kiddos who will eat almost anything… but to the point that we have to make sure he does not eat non-food items)!
We have been through trying Occupational Therapy for food issues (the gradual toleration thing, and making their own healthy foods… did not work for my kids). In addition to it not working, I just could not take the waste food and drama any longer (the gagging, the vomiting, the crying, the anger, etc.). It was more like a slow torture, rather than “therapeutic” sounding, to me! So, as it goes with my personality, I decided to take things into my own hands and try to figure out a better way to get them the nutrition they needed, but were not getting in their diet.
We have always had to be a frugal family, but there have been times that we had to be leaner than others over the years (like during the course of different layoffs). Most of the time, throughout the years, we have been able to add a good (not a mega dose) whole-food vitamin to all of our diets. I will do a post at a later date on supplements we have used, but that is not my focus in this post. That being said, there are a lot of things you can do to boost the fiber and nutrition of foods that you are already making for your family by using a bit of stealth and creativity. These other ways can be done by putting some more, or a bit different, items in your grocery cart. Some of these, you may already have in your pantry, or cupboards, and just need to dig them out. You may not know exactly where they are in the store, but most markets will carry these items nowadays. And yes, these items are food and can be covered by food stamps, if need be. Supplements are not considered a food item, so are many times not an option if you are on a very limited budget.
On to the Techniques I Use
I will now introduce you to some of the easiest things that I have done (and still do) for my family. I will admit, I have had to do these in a stealthy way. I do this, and do not feel one bit guilty about it, because I have three in my household that will say the food tastes different IF they see me do these things. Almost miraculously though, they do not even notice the difference IF they do not see it happen! Go figure!
At the end of this post, I will give you a suggested list of items to have on hand, so that you can do these things quickly and easily. Plus, reading this should help you to be more creative, and come up with some ideas of your own. Are you ready? Here we go!
As a quick disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, nor a dietician. I am just a mom, and wife, who has had to find creative ways to boost her family’s nutrition! So, if you are uncomfortable with, or question, any of these suggestions, then check with your physician before implementing them! Of course, if there are any special dietary needs, or allergies, you must take those into consideration for your own circumstances. These are to be used as ideas and suggestions only! 🙂
- Are you making Mac and yellow Cheese, even if it’s just from a box? Add a tablespoon of canned pumpkin (NOT canned pumpkin pie mix! Make sure you grab the right can! Yeah, I speak from experience here also…) for each box of Mac and Cheese. It blends into it beautifully! If you are even more daring, substitute half of the butter with Virgin Olive Oil (it adds some beneficial fatty acids), or use the blend I put at the end of this list.
- Making a chocolate cake, brownies, or even chocolate cookies (there are great antioxidants in chocolate!)? Whisk in a tablespoon of ground golden flaxseed (some more fatty acids for the brain!) and/or a tablespoon of green pea flour to the powdered mix before adding any of the other ingredients (you may have to add a tablespoon or two of water if the batter is too stiff because of the added dry ingredients).
- Will your sensory issue person only eat noodles with a clear broth, as the only acceptable soup? Stir in a small amount of canned pumpkin and/or powdered herbs (again, your dried herbs can be ground to a fine powder – there are many everyday herbs/seasonings that are beneficial to your health), and/or a dab of virgin olive oil, to boost the health benefits of a simple soup. This can be especially comforting to them (and you) when they are sick, and you can feel better that they are getting SOME kind of nutrition. 😉
- Have one who wants only grilled cheese on white bread, every day?! Try spreading a thin amount of either canned pumpkin, or canned squash (usually lighter in color and flavor) on the bread, before putting the cheese on and then toasting it or grilling it. It is almost invisible that way, but adds some beta carotene.
- Making a yellow cake, blonde brownies, or a more plain-colored cookie? Whisk 2 tablespoons of whole oat flour, or even a nut flour (almond is my favorite, and it makes baked items nicely moist!) into your dry ingredients for some boosted nutrition. Then, you can also add two tablespoons of canned pumpkin, or canned squash (I prefer squash, as it is virtually undetectable in yellow cake), and cut the oil, or butter, by two tablespoons.
- Spaghetti, or pizza sauce (yes, even just the canned stuff), is very versatile for boosting its nutrition with canned pumpkin, powdered herbs, and virgin olive oil. The same goes for ground meat taco filling.
- Green tea is great, and has a lot of health benefits, and can be added to almost any recipe that calls for water! You can make it ahead of time, and keep it in a closed container in the refrigerator (because many times you do not want to add it hot and/or you may not want to have to answer questions as to why you are making tea at that moment…).
- Many sauces, chilis and soups are easily boosted with puréed vegetables, and fruits, of many kinds! I have even added them to some of my old family recipes, and those in the family that have always eaten them in the past, never even notice the difference!
- You can even add some canned squash, or puréed steamed cauliflower, to mashed potatoes, without detection.
- You can switch to using a spread like Smart Balance™, instead of margarine. It is full of essential fatty acids, and no trans fats. Another great alternative is to blend 1 cup virgin olive oil and 1 cup butter together until smooth, put the mixture in an old margarine tub, or a 2 cup storage tub, cover, and store in the refrigerator. Use like you would any butter or margarine.
As you can see, the options are almost endless. You just have to start looking at your person’s limited diet, and think about HOW you could add something, or change something, to make it a bit healthier. It does not have to be a big, complicated thing either! Even a pre-made, microwaved meal can have something (like canned pumpkin or squash) stirred in to make it a bit more nutritious, without much effort.
A Shopping List to Begin With
Okay, now for the promised shopping list, for the above ideas, along with some other tips and ideas for you to personalize to your own needs:
- Canned Pumpkin (this adds so much good nutritional value to so many foods!) is usually found in the baking aisle by pie fillings (like I said earlier though, be sure you buy the PLAIN pumpkin, NOT the pumpkin pie filling – it has all the pumpkin pie spices in it)
- Canned Squash (lighter in color and taste, easier to mask in foods). If you cannot find it canned, like pumpkin is, you can get it in baby food jars 🙂
- Pea flour – if your market has a natural food section, it should be there, or by the baking flours – you may have to ask a store associate (if you cannot find this, or want to be more frugal, throw some dried green split peas (found with the dried bean packages) in a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor, and grind to a fine powder)
- Oat flour – in the same area as the pea flour. You can also grind your own from rolled or quick oats
- (optional, but nice to have) Nut flour – usually the easiest to find is almond flour (or meal). It is a bit pricey though, and making your own is pretty tricky. It is easy to accidentally make nut butter instead of nut flour
- Ground Golden Flaxseed, or Golden Flaxseed meal, is usually found in either the Natural Food section or in the baking flour section of the market. You may have to buy the whole golden flaxseed, and grind them. Make sure they are the golden ones. The regular brown ones show too easily in recipes. ***Also, you can use golden flaxseed seed meal as an egg replacement in many recipes. Mix 1 tablespoon of golden flaxseed meal into 2 tablespoons of very warm (or hot) water. Let it stand for a minute or two, to thicken, then stir again. Use this to replace one egg.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – pretty self-explanatory, but make sure it is not Olive Oil Blend, as it just won’t give you as many of the great essential fatty acids
- Green Tea – this can be found in the regular tea and coffee section at the supermarket. Many times you can find a very large box, for a good price
- Ice Cube trays (at least 2, and preferably silicone. Once in a while I have found them at the dollar store) – You can put the extra canned pumpkin or squash in these to freeze, and then put the frozen cubes into zipper bags, or another container, and store in the freezer to use as needed, without worry of them going bad! 😉 You can also make the green tea into ice cubes
- Your favorite dried herbs and spices, in ground powder form, if possible. Just because you have a sensory-sensitive person in your household, doesn’t mean all of you foods you make for the family has to be bland. You can make any of your dried herbs into a fine powder (even blends, like Italian blend) that will not leave any telltale “pieces” to offend the most sensitive of mouths.
The rest of these are to just to try as you wish, later:
- You can make a simple purée from canned yams (unsweetened), in your blender or food processor, to use where you would canned pumpkin.
- Any other frozen veggies that you would like to slip into your recipes. Steam them, then blend them, and then freeze in the ice-cube trays, for later use. If the recipe is hot, just drop in however many you want to add. If it is not something hot you are mixing it into, then set them out for several minutes before making your recipe, to defrost before adding.
- You can do the same with frozen fruits. Don’t steam them though. Just put them in a colander and rinse off with tap water. Then, blend and freeze in ice-cube trays. Use like you do the veggies, where it doesn’t matter if some sweetness is added to the recipe.
- You can mix a stronger vegetable with a fruit to tone it down a bit for some recipes. For example, you can mix some broccoli or spinach purée with blueberries, and use for part of the oil or butter in chocolate baked goods.
- If you cannot go through the fuss of making veggie and/or fruit purées (because of lack of time, equipment, or whatever), then puréed baby food is always a viable option, though of course, not quite as nutritious as veggies and fruits frozen at their peak. Yet, it is more nutritious than nothing! 🙂
I am hopeful that these suggestions will help you, to help your loved-ones, stay on a more healthful path! Also, I want to help your mind be more at ease with their limited diet. Feel free to experiment, and be creative, in adding new foods into their diet.
Is there anything you want to see me talk about from our life? Do you need to find any particular resources? Anything else you want to ask? Please feel free to contact me on the form below, or email me at email@example.com ~ Thanks!
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