Thank goodness Amanda loves salad. We were at the indoor water park Splash Lagoon years ago, and a man came over to our table while we were eating lunch.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I just wanted to let you know that my wife and I are making our daughters watch your daughter eat her salad. It is an inspiration.”
What we didn’t realize is that this love of vegetables and greens would serve us well when Amanda, who is now 20, graduated from high school and moved on to her next phase in life.
I had been planning for this moment. I had researched. I had scheduled. I had assisted in coordinating interviews for college classes, created volunteer work opportunities, and scheduled social get-togethers that would happen on a regular basis. But I had forgotten about food.
Amanda has Down syndrome, along with celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. To say that we monitor her diet is an understatement.
When she was in the public school system, we coordinated with the nurse, along with the teaching assistant, for pretty much everything she ate during the day. Amanda brought her lunch three days a week. I would meticulously pack a nutritious, gluten-free lunch and include the carbohydrate number Amanda needed to program into her insulin pump. On the other two days she bought a lunch. Those meals had been carbohydrate-counted and deemed gluten-free in advance so as not to create any surprises.
This was a pattern developed in middle school, and we kept it throughout her Fayetteville-Manlius career because it worked.
This fall we began Amanda’s new schedule. Because she is out and about in her community for most of the day, her meal routine has changed significantly. She is eating at restaurants nearly every meal.
I hadn’t thought about this.
One night, while going over her insulin pump history for the day, I realized Amanda had had a cheeseburger with no bun and french fries for lunch, a bag of chips for a snack, pizza for dinner and a milkshake for dessert!
Let’s just say the Freshman Fifteen was alive and well in Manlius. When you are 4 feet 10 inches tall, with a slightly slower-than-average metabolism, this is not good.
It happens to the best of us. Your routine changes. Workouts stop happening on a regular basis. Opportunities for social eating increase. All of a sudden, you’re putting on weight.
Add to this that we are trying to increase Amanda’s independence skills, so we encourage her to order for herself. This requires making a decision in a timely matter, looking at the server when ordering, and speaking clearly enough to be understood. All good things. But if everyone else at the table is ordering burgers and fries, who wants to buck that trend?
And the final piece to this puzzle is that the mentors or friends that are with Amanda for these meals had not been given guidelines other than that the meal had to be gluten-free and we needed to figure out the carbohydrate number associated with it to accurately cover with insulin what Amanda consumed.
We needed to act fast.
Counting on Amanda’s love for salad, my husband, Brian, and I planned our discussion. We wanted to put a positive spin on this change of habit. Amanda has no real body awareness when it comes to weight. There are no positives or negatives associated with clothing size. There also does not seem to be any idea that there is a correlation between amount of food consumed and amount of weight gained or lost.
We had to empower Amanda with actions that allowed her to be the adult she is. She likes to have input regarding her day. She also likes to make choices. And she loves to go out to eat.
One night after dinner—which not incidentally was a big salad with chicken—we told Amanda we wanted to chat with her about her work and school week.
We asked her how she liked her schedule. We talked about her activities during the day. We then brought up going out to lunch. Reminding her that she loved salad, a fact that she agreed with, we discussed from now on ordering salads during the day.
While a basic vegetable salad might seem less than exciting, adding chicken, cheese and olives spices it up. And, of course, you can always garnish with a pickle, which happens to be another one of Amanda’s favorite foods. You get the bonus of choosing a dressing.
This plan gave Amanda the opportunity to make lots of choices. She still felt in control of her meal experience to an extent. And we bargained with her that if she chose to have the salad and ate a healthy snack during the day she would have free choice for dessert in the evening.
Once we had an agreement from Amanda, we let the mentors and friends that were a part of her day know about the change. This actually made it much easier for them in the long run, as salads are available at almost all restaurants and the carbohydrate numbers are relatively easy to calculate.
Amanda has quickly learned which eating establishments have her favorite salad options. She has found a variety of places to dine in throughout her community. She is eating healthy and still feels in charge. A win on all counts.
Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs.