Picky Eaters: The Battle over School Lunch

Photo Credit: pbs.com

Photo Credit: pbs.com

School lunches, a daily horror for many students! 

TV shows, commercials, and even some children’s novels have honed in on the fact that attempting to eat cafeteria food during the school days can be considered a feat of great courage. Many kids turn their heads away from food, appetites diminished by the desire to not be poisoned. 

But, for parents with children diagnosed with autism,  the picky eating phenomenon doesn’t exist solely within school lunch courts.

As tempting as simply allowing picky eaters to eat in their picky ways, according to the Autism Research Institute website, choosy habits can lead to many long-term health issues. Sometimes, habits are caused by “sensory misreading” or “poor oral-motor skills”, which are best treated through a professional speech or occupational therapist. In other cases, weak digestive systems and drug side effects are the culprits. 

But, another hidden culprit leads to a general disinterest in food: nutritional imbalances. The effects of nutritional imbalances is a perpetual loop: bad nutrition leads to poor appetites, which lead to bad nutrition. However, with some some inventive parenting tactics, this problem can be solved. 

Although every person with autism is different, there was one successful technique that I’ve personally witnessed over the years: using superheroes.

picky eating hero

My brother used to only accept a diet of rice, spam, and eggs. He cringed at meat, and at vegetables especially.

Pressed for a solution to improve my brother’s health, my mom changed her tactics to persuade him to try new things: She turned food into super fuel.

My brother loved superheroes, and just about anyone that could combat bad guys, with a passion. My mom repeatedly introduced chicken as something that had “Protein”, which can give my brother muscles “to fight the bad guys”, like his heroes. And, she said that orange juice had “Vitamin C” which could, you guessed it, give him the strength to fight the bad guys.

My brother even received special applause for trying and loving spinach. He reasoned that he would then be able to “grow muscles like Popeye.” Food became a means for my brother to connect to the people that he looked up to the most. My mom gave each food a purpose: to help my brother grow into the greater, stronger person that his idols are. And, she told nothing but the truth.


Now, years after she started this “Superfood” approach, my brother actually asks to try new food and basically eats everything in his line of vision.

Many parents are food detectives, searching for the cause and finding solutions to their children’s picky eating habits. With persistence and some empathy for your child, you can solve the case of your child’s picky eating.  I make no promises they will like school cafeteria food though, that might take a miracle!