Diet and Nutrition Planning for Teens with Autism Syndrome

Planning and Preparation

Turning your kitchen into a haven of good nutrition and better eating habits may feel like a monumental task, but it is entirely manageable if broken down into smaller tasks.

  1. Go through the refrigerator and pantry gradually removing unhealthy foods. These include foods filled with sugar (i.e. the first ingredient on the label), artificial ingredients, preservatives, and coloring. Get rid of all soft drinks. Extra salty or fatty foods should also be limited, but these are more problematic for adult health–teenagers can handle some salty, fatty foods because of their higher activity levels. Stop buying unhealthy foods. If anyone asks, tell them you can’t afford them. Having to buy these foods themselves will immediately reduce your teenagers’ (and other family members’) need for them.
  2. Next, see how many canned or processed foods you can replace with fresh foods. These foods are often filled with unwanted sugars, preservatives, and other chemical additives that can negatively impact your family’s health. Try the local health food store for spaghetti sauce and other sauces and dressings free of chemistry experiments. Farmer’s markets often have homemade jams, hot sauces, pesto, flavored honey, herb vinegars and other specialties. Check the local bakeries for bread; often bakeries sell their day-old bread at a significant discount – and it is still a lot fresher than what you will find at the grocery store!
  3. Choose healthy breakfast foods. You may have to woo your teenager to the breakfast table, but it is worth the effort. Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day for regulating energy levels, metabolism, brain power, and moods.
  4. Whoever does the majority of the cooking in the family should consider what foods the family loves and check out a few cookbooks featuring their favorite foods from the library. A happy and inspired cook makes nutritious food and better mealtime experiences.
  5. Based on your family’s favorite meals, create a new grocery list featuring fresher, healthier foods to recreate everyone’s favorite dishes.
  6. Preparing food should be a happy, integrated activity. We have a rule in our house: the cook gets to choose the music or radio program while preparing meals, and others are in the kitchen have duties to contribute to a positive atmosphere.
  7. It is also good practice to rotate cooking duties. Cooking is a practical skill and art form that all teenagers should master early in life. A teenager with autism or Asperger’s may especially appreciate feeling self-confident serving tasty food he or she prepared for friends and family.
  8. It is important to continue providing some snack foods, portable foods, and quick meals. These in-between food sources are often the culprits in poor nutrition and diet. By looking closely at ingredients, you could determine healthier options. Make sure that you provide a variety of these meal alternatives or your teenager will resort to relying on vending machines and friends– both very unreliable for healthy and nutritious food!

Very Easy Recipes

Simple examples of healthy snack foods:

  • apples and peanut butter
  • carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes etc., either plain or with dipping sauce
  • granola or homemade granola bars
  • peanuts and raisins or other fruit/nut mixes
  • whole yogurt with fresh fruit and honey
  • cheese and wholegrain crackers
  • yogurt and fruit “smoothies” made in the blender
  • quick breads and muffins made from scratch – easier than you think.

Portable foods need to be hard, or in a hard container, so they are not squashed and unappetizing by the time your teenager gets around to eating them. Apples and granola bars are a good start. Sometimes we get beef, elk, venison or bison jerky from friends who make their own. In some areas, more farmers and ranchers are offering these products for sale.

We also have a favorite cookie recipe. Using whatever basic chocolate chip cookie recipe your family prefers, cut the sugar by one-quarter cup, and substitute one-half cup quick oats for one-half cup of the flour required. Add chopped nuts, and even coconut flakes, if you prefer. Use real butter rather than margarine. Making a variation of these cookies each week will provide a more nutritious treat than store-bought cookies.

Quick meals should be opportunities teenagers, including those with autism and Asperger’s’ Syndrome, can cook for themselves after school or late at night when returning from an evening out or up late studying. Provide instructions to prepare basic pasta and then make sure a variety of interesting pasta shapes and sauces are readily available.  Be sure your teenager knows how to find the necessary ingredients and pots and pans.

Egg-based meals are another great, quick meal. Make sure your teenager knows how to prepare basic scrambled eggs, omelets, fried or poached eggs, hard-boiled eggs, and French toast. With just these two basic food sources in his or her cooking repertoire, your teenager can create a dozen different healthy meals.

Rather than using direct praise for positive changes in your teenager’s eating habits, which may feel too intrusive or excessive for what he or she will rightly regard as a very basic part of life, ask your teenager to cook for the family. “You prepare such good food these days. Could I get you to cook for everyone once this week?” This will make your teenager feel both self-confident and needed. For a teenager, with or without autism, these are the deeply needed marks of maturing and growing into adulthood.

RESOURCES:

Beard, James. 1973. Beard on Bread. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

This easy-to-use cookbook has clear instructions and great recipes for all kinds of quick breads, including biscuits, muffins, and sweetbreads, as well as yeast breads.

Fallon, Sally. 1995. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Doctorates. San Diego, California: Promotion Publishing.

The title says it all; this wonderful cookbook provides healthy, fresh food alternatives based on a wide variety of traditional cultures, as well as an introduction to good nutrition that is well worth reading.

Kaizen, Mollie. 1977. The Moosewood Cookbook. Berkeley, California: The Ten-Speed Press.

Many of our family’s favorite nutritious, fresh food recipes come from this cookbook and its successor, The Broccoli Forest.

Robertson, Laurel, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey. 1976. Laurel’s Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition. New York, New York: Bantam Books.

Considered the “Joy of Cooking” for the whole foods kitchen, this book has great tables on the nutritional components of different foods, as well as a large number of recipes.

Schauss, Alexander, Barbara Friedlander, and Arnold Meyer. 1991. Eating for A’s. New York, New York: Pocket Books.

Zurbel, Runa and Victor. 1984. The Natural Lunchbox. New York, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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The team behind Your Little Professor is dedicated to providing factual information for parents and caretakers of adolescents on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. We believe in connecting families to the necessary resources in order to help individuals on the spectrum succeed in day-to-day life.


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