Planning and Preparation
Turning your kitchen into a generator of good nutrition and better eating habits may feel like a monumental task, but it is entirely manageable if broken down into tasks that only take an hour or less.
- Go through the refrigerator and the pantry shelves and gradually reduce and eliminate unhealthy foods. These include those foods whose primary ingredient is sugar (i.e. the first ingredient on the label), and foods with artificial ingredients, including preservatives and artificial 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. Then don’t buy unhealthy foods anymore. If anyone asks, you can 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.
- Next, see how many canned or already prepared foods you can replace with fresh foods. These foods are often a hidden source of unwanted sugars, preservatives, and other chemical additives that can actually damage 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!
- Pay special attention to 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, brain power, and moods.
- Whoever does the majority of the cooking in the family should consider what foods he or she enjoys the most, and should check out a few cookbooks featuring their favorite foods from the library. A happy and inspired cook makes good food; inspiring food makes better mealtimes and better nutrition possible.
- Based on your family’s list of favorite meals, and the cook’s preferences, create a new grocery list featuring fresh foods and non-sugar foods for the main meals.
- Preparing food should be a happy, not a harassed, activity. We have a rule in our house that the cook gets to choose the music or radio program while preparing meals, and others are in the kitchen at the same time only if they are contributing to a positive atmosphere.
- 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 Asperger’s may especially appreciate feeling self-confident serving tasty food he or she has prepared to friends and family.
- It is important to continue to provide some snack foods, portable foods, and quick meals. These in-between food sources are often the culprits in poor nutrition and diet, however, so it is crucial to look closely at ingredients, and change the foods that are available whenever you determine that the current offerings are unhealthy. Make sure that you provide a continual supply of a variety of these meal alternatives, or your teenager will resort to relying on vending machines and friends; neither source can be relied upon for solely healthy and nutritious food!
Very Easy Recipes
Simple examples of healthy snack foods: a) apples and peanut butter; b) carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes etc., either plain or with dipping sauce; c) granola or homemade granola bars; d) peanuts and raisins, or other fruit/nut mixes; e) whole yogurt with fresh fruit and honey; f) cheese and wholegrain crackers; g)yogurt and fruit “smoothies” made in the blender; h) quick breads and muffins made from scratch – easier than you think.
Portable foods need to be hard, or in a hard container, so that they are not squashed and unappetizing by the time your teenager gets around to remembering to eat them. Apples and granola bars are a good start; sometimes we get beef, elk, venison or bison jerky from friends who make their own jerky, and more farmers and ranchers are starting to offer 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, and filling the cookie jar will provide a more nutritious treat than store-bought cookies.
Quick meals should be meals that teenagers, including those with Aspergers’ Syndrome, can cook for themselves in the afternoon after school, or late at night when returning from an evening out, or if they are up late studying. Provide instruction in how to prepare basic pasta, and then make sure that a variety of interesting pasta shapes and sauces are readily available and that your teenager knows how to find the necessary ingredients and pots and pans by him or herself. Egg-based meals are another example. Make sure that 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 or next week?” will make your teenager feel both self-confident, and needed. For a teenager, with or without Asperger’s Syndrome, these are the marks of growing into adulthood and family membership as the contributing adult that he or she wants to be, deep down.
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 Dictocrats. 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.
Katzen, 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.