I never really thought about pizza until I had Jack. Around age 6 Jack started not liking pizza. I started getting clued in on his changing taste buds after he got back from a birthday party. Jack came home from the party and he kept bugging me for food and said he was still hungry. That’s weird. “What’d you have for lunch”, I asked? “Birthday cake and carrots”, he said. “You sure that’s all they served?” I prodded and found out they had pizza and Jack didn’t want to eat it. What kid doesn’t like pizza? Later that week, Jack turned his nose up at pizza for lunch at the elementary school. At the time, we let the kids pick one day a week to have hot lunch as a treat. Jack usually picked the pizza days. He no longer picked the pizza days and sometimes forewent getting hot lunch altogether because there was nothing he wanted.
Pizza is the American food of choice. It’s cheap and easy. But have you ever noticed that each pizza place has their own unique sauce flavor? Jack’s aversion to pizza seemed to start the same year we were eating pizza every week and his taste buds started getting really acute. We were eating pizza at least once a week, sometimes more. Tuesdays were $5 pizzas at Little Caesars with $1 crazy bread. This was my go-to every Tuesday the year Rae had dance class right at 6pm. I had exactly 30 minutes after work to feed the kids, get Rae dressed and dropped off at class 10 minutes away. Add some carrot sticks and it’s a complete meal! Jack really hated pizza after that year. He would say each pizza place tastes so different from the other and I don’t know what to expect especially with all those “tomatoes” on there. Mind you, he’d eat ketchup all day long with “tomatoes” in it but not pizza sauce.
When we found out Jack had Aspersers, we made it a point to expose Jack to as many foods as possible. I would not let him dictate what I cooked each night for dinner. I’m not that great in the kitchen and asking me to be a short order cook for the whole family would spell disaster. If one of our kids pre-decided they didn’t want to eat what was put in front of them, our rule was they must try 3 good-sized bites. If after that they still didn’t like it, they could make themselves a sandwich. We’ve stuck by this rule. It was usually on that 3rd bite that Jack would look at us and say, “I’m surprised! I really like this.” One food that we are so proud of Jack for trying and liking at such a young age was sushi. Our family loves sushi and we make it often at home and Jack jams it full with all his favorite stuff. He has even moved up to spicy sushi and took a challenge from his sister recently to eat the entire glob of wasabi on his plate for $5.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming a kid’s aversion to food on autism. I remember my parents accommodating me all the time when I thought I wouldn’t like something. I don’t remember them encouraging me either to get out of my comfort zone. When Jeff and I were dating, I’d say no thank you to a lot of his favorite foods. He would challenge me on why I thought I didn’t like it. Of course, none of my excuses seemed very logical. I’m happy to say I’ve expanded my pizza choices from just plain cheese pizza to supreme and eating veggies like asparagus and brussel sprouts. If I hadn’t been challenged on the why I didn’t like something, I’d still be in my little bubble of select foods I thought I liked. Jeff and I are constantly challenging our kids to eat different foods especially ethnic foods. They need to be exposed to different cultures, reaching across the table to try each other’s food, and supporting our local community.
A few weeks ago, I found out Jack ate pizza at school with tomato sauce. It had been a very long time of him not even trying one. He explained that 1. the pizza didn’t have a lot of sauce so he muscled through it and 2. the pizza was made by a prestigious restaurant and would be a crime without trying it. I’m so proud of him!
Now go and challenge your kids to try something new. If they refuse, let them witness you trying something new!