Caroline is a world class picky eater. Food is more about texture and temperature for her, and if an item upsets her sense of either, she’ll vomit. Too hot? Instant gag. Too meaty? Immediate puking. So we only introduce new foods with extreme caution and feel elated when she sticks to something easy for awhile.
It’s not like she’s the only picky kid on the planet. Or like Scott or I either one was exactly open minded about foods in our own childhoods. But, as with everything, Caroline has her own sense of how to do things right, and the list of things she won’t eat far outstrips the list of things she’ll even consider edible. Right now, she eats plain pasta with Parmesan cheese on it (cold), pretzels, yogurt, most fruits, corn (also cold), cottage cheese, PB&J sandwiches, bagels, cereal bars, some cereals, and a few other things on a rotating basis. Yes, I said cold corn. She eats almost no meat, though she has developed a taste for those nasty little Vienna Sausages and we’ve managed to get her to eat cold smoked sausage by explaining it’s the same thing. I have to smuggle her protein in enriched pastas and smoothies.
Eating out is traumatic, not a good thing for a family who regularly takes ten hour car trips. Scott and I have never been big fast-food eaters, so when we’re home, it isn’t much of a loss. But travelling, we have to either feed her lots of car snacks or revert to the old roadside picnic technique. And I assure you, even with the economy in its current state and childhood obesity such a serious problem, there is nothing harder than a roadside picnic with Caroline. (Besides which, have you seen my children? They’d both blow away in a stiff breeze.)
She eats slowly anyway, stopping every half-bite or so to blurt out something about her day, or her life, or her brother’s day, or his life, or Scott’s and my days and lives. We can’t get into idle mealtime conversations, because she’ll never finish her food between staring at us while we talk and trying to horn into the conversation herself. If we go to restaurants with play equipment, we at least have some version of a carrot to tempt her with. “Caroline, the sooner you finish eating, the more time you’ll have to play.” But where we can glare her back to her seat until she finishes her food in a restaurant, there is no way to stop her from jumping up at a rest stop to dash over and stare down a beetle or stone, shouting “Look at this BUG [or rock] I found! It’s SO cool!”
For awhile, we had something good going on with Burger King. Although the televisions they setup in the kids area caused us some problems (she gets mesmerized by the moving image and can’t tear herself away, even if she hates the show), they were serving macaroni and cheese in their kids meals. I could get it with apple fries and a milkshake and hope to get her ten miles down the road without hearing a plaintive “I’m very hungry,” from the back seat. (I’ve started answering this with “Hello, Hungry, I’m Jessie. Nice to meet you.”) Although it was a little weird getting them to serve the macaroni cold, (“just don’t put it in the microwave”) she’d devour it, and we didn’t have to stress about travel food for just over a year.
Typically, we’d place our order, and, as there was no button for “don’t cook that”, the person on the cash register would yell back to the chefs “they want one of those macaronis cold”.
From the back, a disembodied voice would respond with some version of “Why do you want us to do that?”
My favorite cashier was the woman who responded “Because the customer said so.”
I’d usually try to explain autism and its impact upon the perception of temperature, but the conversation rarely went far.
Then, BK stopped offering M&C, and with no further reason to endure their stupid televisions, we went back to McDonalds. Of course, half of those have TVs too. And there’s not much any of us will eat there, but they do have those fruit and yogurt parfaits and a fruit and walnut salad that Caroline enjoys. This puts them ahead of Wendy’s, where we have to order her three little mandarin orange tubs and a Frosty. I’ve gotten used to weird looks from the people on the other side of the registers. And I’m not exactly sure why Caroline’s pickiness is that much different from my own orders of “a plain-hamburger-and-don’t-scrape-off-the-pickles-and-ketchup-just-don’t-put-them-on-there-to-begin-with” as a kid, except that she never orders hot food. But, although the service staff frequently got my orders wrong when I was a kid, I don’t ever recall them giving Mom that look that asked “you’re just testing me, right, to make sure I’m awake over here. Now you’re going to take that back and place your real order, aren’t you?”
But for all that, it could be much worse. None of Caroline’s dietary issues is life threatening. None will result in an allergic reaction, or even in much hyperactivity. When we went to the Easter Egg hunt the other day, one of the other Moms asked how much candy Caroline could have, and I said, “As much as she wants,” because I knew the sugar would have only a limited impact on her, even while the rest of the kids launched into sugar buzz overkill. She won’t have to spend a week on the toilet if she eats wheat bread, and her beloved corn won’t break her out in a rash. So I can live with her picky eating. Most of the time. But I’d be so grateful if she would learn to finish a meal faster than my grandmother.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.