Loosen Up and Break It Up: Appetizers Save the Day

User Rating:  / 1
Loosen Up and Break It Up: Appetizers Save the Day


broccoli girl


 Does your child….

If you answered yes to any of these, this blog is for you.

(The "child" referenced above can be any age, and doesn’t need to have any sort of disability. It could be your partner...)


Readers who have known me a while know I am the Mom of a young man who has both autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome (along with celiac disease and uses few words). What that means is that we experience many of the joys of the sensory challenges and rigidity associated with folks who have ASD as well as Down syndrome. He is a great teacher, my child. I learn a lot that I apply to my work as a dietitian coaching families of and adults with Down syndrome and related disabilities and many other areas of my life. Tonight he reminded me of an effective groove we’ve created to be sure he gets his vegetables.

Whoever said that you had to eat your dinner all at the same time and from the same plate?  The way I see it, this is Andy’s version of an appetizer. He eats them while we cook.

From my perspective, as the Mother and primary cook of dinner, it’s a great way to keep him thinking about the meal being prepared. It also stops him from grazing the pantry for something easy to reach to eat while I’m cooking (usually chips). And if I’m late with dinner – which means it’s going to be done after 5:05pm – it keeps him from falling apart because the routine is off (You know he’s going to starve if dinner’s not on the table at 5:00 sharp!).

Though we don’t do this every night, we do it most nights. It goes like this. When it comes to vegetables, Andy prefers those that can crunch. In fact, when he goes grocery shopping with his Dad, you can find him in the huge store by following the trail of broccoli bits he leaves behind. (The folks at WinCo are attached to Andy, and are great about it.)  Though is favorite is broccoli, he will also consider celery, baby carrots, and romaine lettuce hearts. I cut up about a cup of them and put them on a small plate that I leave on the counter or by his favorite chair. He snacks away and before you know it, he’s eaten a cup or more of raw veggies. We both like broccoli the best (I like to eat the sweet part of the stem). It’s a very nutrient dense vegetable and offers some fiber as well.

When dinner is served, he’s still happy and relieved – just not frantic – and digs right in. And yes, sometimes he even eats more vegetables.

Think about the effect. Not only are the veggies more nutrient dense, because he is eating them raw, they have more fiber and begin to fill him up. By the time he gets to the table, he is feeling a little bit full. Ok. He’s not frantic about eating if I’m late.

This is an example of what I mean by promoting health by using grooves. Andy likes crunch. Rather than chips or crackers, I offer broccoli or apple slices to meet that need for crunch.  When I first started this, I if I didn’t get it set up before Andy got to the chips, I allowed both. That’s when I realized he liked the broccoli better in that moment. These “appetizers” are a regular part of our day, a groove. So much so, I never thought to share!

It’s a fine strategy for those who are extremely interested in meal preparation (so much so they sneak a taste here and there). Limit them to the vegetable plate. It’s also good for those who can’t let the food touch another food. Just offer one vegetable. There’s nothing else to touch! It also lowers their stress about that issue, making for an easier meal time experience for everyone.

What raw vegetable or fruit does your child like?  Consider including a healthy, easy, vegetable appetizer when your child comes into the kitchen to join you while cooking. Make it one they like. If you start when they are young, you might just create a useful groove!

If you’re not sure what foods to try, have a tasting party! Methods for successful tasting to expand food choices are included in My Tasting Journal: Keeping Track of Foods I Try. An electronic book inspired by some “list makers.”

Happy snacking!

joan sig