I didn't buy every can of soup at the store. It just looks that way.
My son, Nolan, has been known to eat a lot, and also eat some, shall we say, interesting combinations of food.
He’s pulled packages of lunch meat and a bottle of ranch salad dressing out of the fridge, handed them to me with wide-eyed anticipation, and eaten every last bite of what I put in front of him. Cindy reminded me Sunday he’d once mixed cereal and ketchup and consumed that concoction without batting an eye. Maybe the world was ready for a mixture of chocolate and peanut butter as a tasty snack, but I guarantee no one at the Kraft Heinz Company would read this and say, “Hey, that kid’s on to something here!”
Nolan is a teenager with a voracious appetite. He also has Autism and tends to seek out strong flavors and textures when his stomach is rumbling. He might crave mustard with bread one moment, and blue cheese dressing with it the next. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point he mixes bread with mustard and blue cheese dressing, with a ketchup chaser.
But while the odd combinations might change, one thing has been a staple in Nolan’s diet the last couple of years: soup.
He’s grown fond of Chunky Soup in particular, but he typically won’t push away a cup of Progresso or Great Value, which is Wal-Mart’s brand. He really enjoys Chicken Tortilla, but he also will slam an entire can of Jazzy Jambalaya or Grilled Chicken & Sausage Gumbo in less time that it takes for a NASCAR pit crew to get a car back on the track. Nolan is nonverbal, but there are times his eyes, yells, and hand-waves speak volumes: “Old man, just get that soup over here – stat! – when the microwave timer goes off and we won’t have any problems.”
Nolan has been on a three, sometimes four, can a day kick as of late. I’m already walking to the cupboard and pulling out a can for his breakfast before he even requests it on his iPad. He’s asking for soup the second I bring him home from school. It’s his dinner almost every night. And if another can at bedtime will keep his stomach happy, and keep him from waking up hungry at 3 a.m., bon appetit, son!
I honestly never used to pay any attention to where the soup was located in the local supermarket, but now Aisle 11 is seared into my brain. While the rest of my trip to the grocery store might earn me a spot on “Supermarket Sweep,” I tend to move a little slower in the soup aisle – three minutes is an eternity for me – and scan the shelves for Nolan’s favorites. I bought 30 – yes, 30 – cans of Chunky during my last trip to the store in mid-October (you’re welcome, Dak Prescott, who is the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback and new Chunky spokesman). I might have gotten a little excited about finding 15 cans of Chicken Tortilla, which had vanished from the shelves earlier this year.
It's not Chunky, but I'll eat it!
And if a person or two shot a quizzical glance at the guy treating each of soup with the same gentle care Indiana Jones treated the idol he sought in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” so be it.
There are many parents of children on the Autism spectrum who struggle with finding meals that their kids will eat. When you do find that food that satisfies your son or daughter’s appetite, you’ll dig for every last bit of sofa change to make sure they’re well-fed and happy for months. I conducted an informal poll in two Facebook groups for fathers who have children with Autism, and their kids enjoy a wide array of meals ranging from chicken nuggets, McDonald’s French fries, and ramen noodles. One father’s child is keen on Doctor Oetker Ristorante Spinaci pizza. One man’s son has eaten Domino’s Pizza every day for the last two years, and another’s son has eaten chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast every day for the last 10-plus years.
I was raised by parents who ate cereal and drank orange juice for breakfast, and both still are part of my morning routine after all these years. If my mother still were here, I know she would be encouraging me to get Nolan to eat a more traditional breakfast. Even now, there occasionally are days that I’m tempted to switch things up and encourage him to start his day with, say, a bagel or eggs.
But, with a nod to an old Bill Cosby routine in which he talked about feeding his children chocolate cake for breakfast, there are worse things than soup with which to begin the day. It has vegetables! It has meat, which is a prime source of protein! Most important, it makes Nolan happy, he’s been boarding the school bus in a good mood, and he’s been doing well at school.
So yeah, he can eat as much soup as he wants for as long as he wants. But I’m going to draw the line at letting him mix in blue cheese dressing.