How has your desire to feed your children a variety of foods been tempered by Will’s autism diagnosis? Many children on the autism spectrum have food intolerances, and I steer clear of dairy for Will. He also has sensory issues and doesn’t like to eat anything that is too saucy or gooey. While he may not like a piece of bread, he will eat it if it’s toasted and has a crisp texture to it.
When I make new recipes or foods, Will’s first reaction is often, “No, no, no, no … ” but then he will try it. I have to say, both of my children are good eaters and will even have certain vegetables — such as edamame and cut-up bell peppers — as snacks.
Do they like to mix it up with you in the kitchen? I find that wherever I am with Will, I am talking through everything I’m doing — and that includes in the kitchen. Will is not a big fan of helping when it comes to cooking, as there are many different textures in the ingredients he might have to touch, which is difficult for him. But Francie is my feisty redhead that would love to cook everything with or without me. She loves to measure and stir and make a mess in the kitchen. But she makes everything so much fun. While Will isn’t that into the food preparation in the kitchen, he is into eating.
Did you grow up in the kitchen? I was surrounded and spoiled by good food in Addison, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. I still have my fourth-grade cookbook to which all of my classmates contributed recipes. In this cookbook are recipes that range from pierogi to baklava. Kansas City is a great food town, but Chicagoans have distinct ideas about what makes a good hot dog — or red hot — Italian beef sandwich or deep-dish pizza.
With all those food options, why did you choose this recipe to share? I really would have loved to share one of my late grandmother Helen Johnson Haen’s recipes on one of those handwritten or typed ingredient-stained index cards with frayed corners. But looking back, those recipes were laughable. My grandma — who would be 100 years old if she were alive today — was the daughter of Swedish immigrants, lived on the north side of Chicago and fed her baby-boomer children recipes that often included “cream of fill-in-the-blank” soup. Everyone made casseroles using cans back then. But today I want to use fresh ingredients as much as I can.
The joy of this recipe is that you can put extra chicken breasts on the grill with another dinner, then have the chicken ready to go for this recipe the next night. Will has 40 hours of therapy a week, and as a busy mom I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen making elaborate meals. When it comes to taking care of my children and advocating for them, the lesson I continue to learn and share with others is to simply follow your gut.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Residence: Mission Woods
Occupation: Community volunteer and homemaker
Special cooking interest: Keeping it clean, preparing food without heavy sauces
Family: Husband Rusty; son Will, 4 (above); daughter Francie, 2
Mediterranean Chicken Orzo
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 (16-ounce) package orzo pasta
3 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup fresh basil, torn into bite-sized pieces
Prepare orzo in a pasta pot, as directed on package. Cook until al dente. Drain into a fine-mesh colander and return orzo to pot.
Gently stir in warm grilled chicken pieces, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, lemon juice, olive oil and Parmesan cheese until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, and pour into serving dish. Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately.
Per serving, based on 4: 742 calories (17 percent from fat), 14 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 78 milligrams cholesterol, 103 grams carbohydrates, 50 grams protein, 1,218 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber.