Until his mother Lynda participated in Better Beginnings, Julio’s diet consisted mainly of french fries (his absolute favorite), pizza, hot dogs and sugary cereal. Other than bananas, Julio ate no fruits or vegetables. As is common with children on the autistic spectrum (Julio had been diagnosed when he was 2.5 years old), Julio had sensory challenges when it came to food, resulting in a strong preference for crunchy, fried foods. Julio had become a bit chubby, and Lynda knew his diet wasn’t healthy, so she was giving him vitamin gummies.
Together with about 20 other parents, Lynda joined the six-week Better Beginnings program at Edison School in Port Chester, NY. Lynda would tell you that before Better Beginnings, she knew WHAT Julio should be eating, but she didn’t know HOW to make that happen. Because of Better Beginnings, Lynda says that she and her husband Edwin “changed everything” (including their own diets).
Lynda and Edwin implemented many strategies with Julio, including:
- eating fruits and vegetables themselves (Edwin didn’t previously like them and he completely changed his diet) to role model healthy eating for Julio
- using garlic (which Julio loves) as a “flavor bridge” to make new foods - like broccoli rabe - taste familiar, and serving food on tostadas (Julio adores the crunch) to encourage Julio to eat foods he otherwise might not
- involving Julio in shopping and cooking
- at the grocery store, Lynda gives Julio three healthy options (eg of vegetables) from which Julio selects the one that they buy
- Lynda and Edwin took Julio apple picking to help him learn where food comes from
- Lynda began involving Julio in the kitchen and quickly saw that when he helped in the kitchen, he would eat the food they prepared
- exposing Julio to many different foods
- experimenting with textures; Lynda learned that Julio did not like beans as she typically prepared them (Lynda is from Guatemala where they puree their beans) so he now happily eats them unblended; similar, Julio will not eat scrambled eggs but enjoys hard-boiled
- talking to Julio about food (“what color is the fruit?”) to encourage him to engage his five senses when exploring new foods
- taking the pressure off of eating fruits and vegetables and playing games with them instead
- tapping into who Julio is as a child and using what he loves - like his cat! - to motivate him to eat healthy (creatively, Lynda & Edwin point out to Julio that his cat eats salmon and fish, but does not drink soda)
And as you can see from these pictures, Julio now eats pretty much everything! - salad, salmon, chicken, lentil soup, peas, avocado, tomato, hard-boiled eggs, beets, broccoli rabe, fish, carrots, green beans, a wide variety of fruit - the list is almost endless. Julio is also a healthy weight again, and has much more energy. At Halloween, Julio ate a bit of candy but did not overdo it. When Lynda offered him candy in following days, he often didn’t want any.