Sausage Stuffin' Muffins (Pillsbury puff pastry cut into squares in a muffin tin)
This is the story about how my kids learned to eat anything!!
If your kids are typical or not, you know how it is often difficult to get them to eat a balanced diet. I’ve been a mom to 4 children with ASD’s for about 12 years now. When I met their Father,
a widower, the youngest was 4, the eldest was 15, and they ate little else but pizza, chicken nuggets or fried food. They ate sugary breakfasts with whole milk or sugary fruit juice. Seriously? They were quite overweight and this was a problem
that I needed to fix... fast. I understand overweight. I come from a large Italian family where we grew up eating all sorts of meat, fish, shellfish and vegetables prepared in so many different ways and I admit to my own issues with self-control.
But I had to make sure my children ate something healthy. We didn’t drink soda or juice as kids. If we were thirsty we drank water, and milk was for breakfast. If we didn’t like what was served, we didn’t eat. Pizza
& Fast Food was only for special candle-light dinners when Daddy was not home!!!
In my new family I was stunned
at the calories in one meal! The first thing to go was whole milk and organic fruit juice. Just because its organic doesn’t mean its good for you. Organic sugar is just as calorie-laden as processed sugar. We switched to 2% milk
for the morning and snack time, and Crystal Light at meal times. Yes, I know, artificial sweeteners and all that. But guess what, they already have autism. Was it really going to make them worse? I was sure that the sugar would kill
them before the Splenda.
Next, I tried to find healthy things they liked and, in a desperate attempt to satisfy everyone, I was
making 2 or 3 different meals for dinner - after working a full-time job. That didn’t last long. Then I tried the art of disguising vegetables or lean meats, like pureeing cauliflower and adding it to gravy (red sauce), or finely chopping
up meat and putting it under the cheese on pizza. That didn’t last long either. Who has the time for that? So I waited, and I observed while Dad fed them. I looked carefully at their favorite junk foods, pizza toppings, chicken
nugget dipping sauces and I discovered the following: My new family loved: pepperoni & mozzarella cheese, hot dogs, Buffalo Wing sauce, hot pepper, cheese sauce and salsa, ranch dressing as a dip and other strong flavors. Ok, I thought, something
to work with….
So, one night (the very next night) after we had pepperoni pizza (yuk, I hate pepperoni), I got some cauliflower
and steamed it just a bit (kids really don’t like mush), heated it in a pan with some diced pepperoni, then melted some low-fat mozzarella cheese over it. Then I held my breath…ah ha, it worked. 1 slice of plain cheese pizza and a side of
"pepperoni-flower." I came up with a new name for a dish and a balanced meal. You can do this with most of your vegetables - use your child’s favorite topping - bbq sauce? ranch dressing? honey mustard? Yes, even those plain Cheerios
& a drizzle of honey over roasted salted Brussles sprouts! It may sound odd to you, but sweet and salty is a favorite combination for most people and my youngest is one of the few people in our family who asks for Brussles Sprouts or Spinach at the
supermarket. In the same vein, there is ketchup. Some kids love ketchup. On anything and everything. I'm convinced that this is how the awful meatloaf recipe topped with ketchup was invented. Some mother probably had a kid who liked
hamburgers with ketchup, so she told her kid it was a hamburger loaf and put ketchup on top. Who really cares if your child puts ketchup on everything? ...as long as they eat it and as long as everything is not french fries all the time. See,
i.e., Meatloaf Muffins recipe below. No ketchup, but ketchup-ready if necessary!
Now, take it a bit further. Another
favorite food was those Buffalo Chicken Tenders you can buy at the fast food restaurants or at Costco. Really? How on earth can you eat that stuff all the time? I thought they were just for Superbowl Sunday!! Time for the transformation.
One night we had Buffalo Chicken Tenders. The next night I got a Very Fresh Salmon Fillet, rubbed it lightly with olive oil, and covered it liberally with Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic (a very spicy but flavorful cajun spice mix with a taste [and
more importantly, color] similar to Buffalo Sauce. I popped it under a hot Broiler for 3 minutes, flipped it and gave it another 3 minutes, then served it as “Buffalo Salmon", along with some rolls, or couscous, or even frozen fries BAKED
in the oven. (Now I grill fish whenever possible) This was an immediate success. I couldn’t believe it. In a matter of weeks they were eating Salmon, Tuna, Cod, Flounder. As long as it looked the right color, they would try it. Now,
lemons seem to be doing the trick - as long as there are some quartered lemons in the mix for them to eat at the end. (I don’t know why, they’re ASD kids!!!) For me, I toss it with a tablespoon of honey
to keep the tang factor to a minimum. Now we still eat Buffalo (or Red) Ribs, Buffalo Steak, Buffalo Sausage.. you name it, if its hot and spicy, its “Buffalo.”
What about those kids who only eat hot dogs but won’t touch a burger or chicken sandwich? I went through this one more than once. How do they eat their hot dog? On a bun or not? If its on a bun, start
slicing it and putting it on a burger bun. What did they put on top of that hot dog? Ketchup, Mustard, Mayo? Don't forget the salsa or chips, depending on your child's preference. This goes a long way as incentive - not on the side,
on the bun! Remember that when its time for the burger. Do they like cheese? Start your next step with a veggie burger and top it just like their hot dog, tell them its a veggie dog. You already got them used to a hot dog on a burger
bun - and I recall even that took a little convincing. It won’t be long before burgers or chicken replace that hot dog. Its all in the toppings, the color and the name. Who cares if you serve burger dogs?
As for those chicken tenders - its too easy for words. Buy the chicken breasts at the market, slice them and marinate them in a Ziploc bag with mayo (or yogurt), a bit of lemon and a splash
of hot sauce & honey. Then dip them in panko crumbs and BAKE on a rack over a sheet pan (don’t fry). They will never know the difference - especially if you use their favorite taste. Its ok to season the crumbs, and drizzle with
Now, don't panic. I hear a lot of parents tell me, “my kid doesn’t like spicy food, only plain.”
That’s not true. Although many kids don’t like spicy, no kid likes food that tastes like cardboard. Think Cheerios (crunchy & lightly sweet), Waffles (maple & brown sugar), French Fries (to-go, easy, crunchy & salty),
Bananas (soft, not too sweet, creamy) or Popcorn (that one is for Autism Daddy). Is their pasta boiled and put in a bowl with nothing, with sauce, or is it the butter or olive oil they like? Go beyond the food and think about the flavor. Is
it sweet? Very sugary? Salty? Peppery? What about french fries…is it the salt or the frying? You can duplicate either, but I’m betting on the salt and the crunch. The popcorn? Its the crunch, the easy to-go fun, and
either the butter or the salt.
Oh, speaking of popcorn, I have a secret trick you won’t even want to believe: Have
you ever seen those sprinkle-on flavors they have at the movie theaters now? Butter, Caramel, Kettle Corn, Ranch or BBQ. They sell them at the supermarket also, and they make an incredible seasoning or rub. I kid you not. You can rub it on meat
with olive oil as a glaze before grilling or a stir-fry. Or make it your own way, then sprinkle it on your kid's …whatever…as "magic dust" for a personalized dish. I love the ranch or the kettle corn flavors on vegetables.