Balancing Love and Health: The Struggles of Parenting a Non-Verbal Foodie

A few weeks ago, I met someone who was familiar with the blog. Originally from Ukraine, she had a slight accent which allowed for some blunt statements to be said that might otherwise not fly. That was the case when she told me something that, in its delivery, was memorable and surprisingly impactful.  

I read your blog. Your son is so cute, but he is…you know, overweight. 

The immediate response to some reading this would be to gasp and take offense. I understand that reaction. However, that’s not the one that I had. Rather, I was taken aback by the honesty and smiled because I agreed. I replied. 

Yes. Yes, he is. 

She didn’t know that his weight had been an issue for me for the past few years. It had been an issue for all of us. He and I had been wearing the same size shirts for a while. Now, he had begun to outgrow them despite being 12 years old and shorter than me. It had caused concern.  

Wanting to follow up, I launched into a pretty automatic response. 

It’s hard since he’s non-verbal, but we try to offer him healthy choices and allow him to move around more… 

As the words came out of my mouth, I knew they weren’t true. It was just something that sounded good in my head. His healthy choices were few and far between. Rather, Lucas gets what Lucas wants. 

kid eat waffle

There’s a reason for that. He’s non-verbal. So, whenever he’s hungry, Lucas asks for the food he wants with his communication device. That is a loaded statement with a lot of moving parts to it. 

For parents of non-verbal children, the communication device is the initial introduction to understanding their child’s wants and needs. I’ll never forget the first time he asked for “pizza”. I wanted to have a party. At that moment, I would have given him 1000 pizzas. Unfortunately, he went on to ask for 1000 pizzas. 

How can you say no? This is my boy, talking for the first time. Those agonizing nights of hoping for speech can create imagined scenarios of what you would do if you ever bridged the gap of communication. As soon as he started requesting things, I wanted to give him the world. 

Whatever he can fit in his mouth, Lucas wants. He asks for meals after he’s finished his meal. Give me a plate of waffles, chased by Pirate Booty, and a medium buffalo slathered in ice cream. He’s like Hungry Mungry and often insatiable. Let the games begin.

Could it be sensory? Maybe. It seems like he enjoys having food in his mouth, but he’s also just a foodie. Most kids his age would ask for non-stop snacks if they could. The difference is that most parents didn’t spend so much time hoping for an open door to understand their child. Once we did, the last thing we wanted to do was close it for fear he wouldn’t try to open it again. 

There’s also the whole “poor kid” mentality. While I hate the idea of another person pitying me or my child, in times like these, I sometimes do it myself. He asks for a second quesadilla at 1:30 in the afternoon after a full lunch and a voice in my head says: 

Poor kid. He has such a tough life ahead of him. He has to struggle with so much. Give him the food he wants. What is wrong with you? Bad dad. Bad dad. 

Then you feed him until he explodes like a character in Willie Wonka. So what’s really the bad dad response? Maybe a second or third lunch isn’t the answer.  

autism inclusion

Today, Lucas hears “no” during those moments and he understands what I mean, because he whines and walks away. When he’s not hungry, he doesn’t eat. Meals aren’t as scheduled as they once were and there are a lot of feedings that are on a need-to-eat basis. Surprisingly, he doesn’t ask as much as I thought he would.  

After that day, I decided to not just talk about healthy choices but to really give them.  

Up until now, healthy choices were a pittance among his daily feasts. I’d send in bags upon bags of cookies to school with a tiny box of raisins or an overflowing breakfast with three pieces of a banana on a side plate. It was like plucking a blade of grass and considering your lawn manicured. 

We began focusing on fruits and vegetables. I spoke to his mom to find out what she gives him at her house too. That’s when I found out that he likes blueberries and oranges. I told her about his love of pickles. The great search for healthy options was underway. 

Those reading this are probably screaming, “Get him moving more!” I hear you. From your mouths to God’s ears, as they say. That, however, can be easier said than done. Lucas hates moving and the process, while underway, is a slow burn. Trust me, though, I am on it. We all are. 

My boy can tell me what he wants. It was something I used to dream about when he was little and struggling to express his needs. I want to give him everything I can, but that doesn’t include health problems and obesity. That’s the one request I need to focus most on turning down. 




Every Friday on HIPODIMDAD.COM, Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon, Stitcher, IHeartRadio, Pandora, Tune-In, Alexa, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Pocket Casts, Deezer, Listen Notes, and…Everywhere Pods Are Casted.