A common objection to respecting a child’s choices about food, aside from nutrition concerns, is cooking differently for one person, or having to cook an entirely separate meal on top of the one already being made for the rest of the family. Early Bird, on top of sensory issues due to SPD, also deals with anxiety. Gagging on a food because of the texture can cause fear that that unpleasant experience will happen again that meal, or the next time that food is offered. Telling him to “eat what I cooked” and “shut up and be grateful” and “no, you can’t have anything else” really isn’t something I’d consider doing, even if he didn’t get migraines from low blood sugar. So how do I practice mutual respect without feeling like a short order cook?
Mostly, I cook things separately (easy with a lot of the things I cook), set some aside for Early Bird, and the combine and add the extra seasonings for the rest of us. With a few exceptions like spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce, Early Bird eats all of his foods separated in a divided dish. Mashed potatoes and hamburger gravy? Separate. Yes, he eats the meat and mushroom gravy separate. Rice with a chicken gravy or other sauced meat option? Separate. Taco salad: everything separate. Really, once you’re used to remembering and it becomes habit, it really doesn’t take any extra time to set some aside before mixing. Those different textures combined really though him for a loop.
Another option is having easy alternatives. For example, I’ve recently been experimenting with new French recipes. The other day I baked homemade French bread, herbed baked eggs, French Onion Soup zoodles, and improvised cucumber salad. Early Bird liked the bread. Knowing that he was unlikely to eat the other things, I also quickly scrambled him some eggs and microwaved some frozen peas. Didn’t take a lot of extra effort, and it guaranteed he wouldn’t go hungry. He did end up saying “no, thank you” to the herbed baked eggs, but he did try and like the mushrooms that I had added to the French onion zoodles. Other examples of quick substitutes would be microwave baked potatoes when I make scalloped potatoes, and heated up left over rice with butter and garlic salt.
After years of a proven track record of remembering, Early Bird hardly ever asks me in a worried voice if there will be something that he will like these days. With that anxiety, having the security and trust that he wouldn’t be forgotten and left to fend for himself was really important to him. He has grown more adventurous in the past year, though he still gets shaky voice when asked to look-smell-lick-taste a new food. We respect his “no” and his need to not get sensory overwhelm with something so life-necessary. And he respects our requests to give it a change. I don’t feel like a short order cook (most days) and he has food security knowing he’s not going to go hungry if he doesn’t like mom’s latest culinary foray.