A fresh start inspired by following a dream.

For many seniors in high school, this is the tagline that describes their overall disposition as they anticipate college life. Rerooting—moving away from home, living with roommates (other than mom and dad), creating a new circle of friends, and rearranging life priorities with a new set of formalities—is exciting, and a challenge worth all the stress.

RECENT: Ocalicon 2016 — Nation’s Premier Autism and Disabilities Conference

Freshmen with high-functioning autism may transition beautifully into this unfamiliar environment with the above disposition, while others on the spectrum (or off) may sluggishly operate through the new set of coordinates stressfully, dramatically, and chaotically.

Either way, it’s safe to say all students can benefit from guidance during this new chapter of life.

As an initiative to help guide the transitional process, the Ohio State University provides a program, ACE!, led by students (and supervised by Nisonger Center directors) for students with Asperger's. This program runs the entire school year, each student’s educational track is monitored, and the group meets weekly to discuss topics of interest, eat, and hangout.

ace ohio state university

Eating healthy ­on the go—a topic of interest shared by the ACE! group of five (all with high-functioning autism, aged between 21-24, four males and one female)—is why I was contacted to present and provide a meal prep lesson.

The rest of this article will share my lesson plan where I demonstrate how one store-bought, oven-roasted rotisserie chicken creates multiple healthy, tasty, and inexpensive meals for students on the go.

Why plan? What can food do for me? When should I eat for a workout? Where do I buy healthy food? How should I store meals and leftovers? How can I eat healthily and not go over my budget?

These are just a few of the questions asked by the students in our discussion before introducing the rotisserie chicken. As I’m looking forward to going back to go in further depth on a few of these topics, here’s what was covered in rapid fire (quick, basic, and in a realistic fashion.)

BBQ Rotisserie Chicken Profile

Why plan?

I asked the students to raise their hands if their mom, dad, or roommate was making breakfast, lunch, or dinner for them over the course of the day. They all shook their head no. Another question I asked was who had the luxury of returning to their dorm to eat every time they got hungry. Again, they all shook their head no. These two questions allowed me to get the point across that no one has a personal chef anymore and the likelihood of snapping our fingers to return home, to eat if and when we start to feel hunger pains, is unrealistic. The solution? Plan. Cook. Pack food. For the next few minutes we created a rough meal plan based on the student’s energy demands (activity level throughout the day), hunger pains (time of the day they always feel hungry), and daily schedule (when at home and offsite to know when to prep and pack).

What can food do for me?

We discovered that for many of the students, the food was more of a comfort when stressed and bored than anything else. That at least was the initial association they had with food. We dug a little deeper and we found how eating the wrong foods made us feel bloated and tired. Eating the right foods gave us energy and a refreshing sensation. We went back to our rough meal plan and made exchanges to our food choices. For example, if we were eating a meal before a demanding class, we didn’t want a food choice that would leave us sleepy. Before heading to the gym for a run, we didn’t want a food choice that would leave us bloated.

When should I eat for a workout?

This was another question that I reframed and answered by asking another question. Since everyone is active in the group, I knew they already had the answer to this question. Based on experience, most agreed that before cardio-heavy activities they performed better fasted or with something very light in their systems. Before weight training, they felt they needed something more sustaining because halfway through their workout they’d hit a wall. This had us piggyback to the last question and pick food choices that made us feel good and energetic. The size of the meal would depend on the activity that followed.

ACE nutrition 3

The last three questions (Where do I buy healthy food? How should I store meals and leftovers? How can I eat healthily and not go over my budget?) served as a transition into the food demo portion of the presentation (where we would find these three answers). Therefore, everyone rolled up their sleeves and washed their hands to move from theory into action.

One Rotisserie Chicken Yields Multiple Meals

The demo presented a rotisserie chicken per student. How could we extend this $7 purchase from the local Kroger? We surely couldn’t eat all this chicken in one meal. I heard crickets.

For the next 20 minutes, we stripped each bird of its white and dark meat. In one container per student, chicken breast and leg meat piled up until no more meat remained on the bone.

Each student received three Tupperware containers and split their pile of meat into three portions. One portion would serve as tonight’s dinner, lunch for tomorrow, and a snack for the following day.

ACE Nutrition 1

Create Lunch for Tomorrow

Lunch menu: Buttery Red-Skinned Potatoes and Cheesy Rotisserie Chicken. Each student was handed a potato. We washed our potatoes and used a fork to poke holes throughout so it would cook evenly in the microwave. You’d be surprised how this was a foreign task and a few needed help operating the microwave. After we could stick a fork through the potato effortlessly, we mashed the potato up, drizzled coconut oil over it, and sprinkled Parmesan cheese over the chicken. Healthy fat, a stellar source of carbohydrate, and lean meat — lunch for tomorrow: MADE. Based on our rough meal plans from earlier, we also pinpointed when this could serve as a good meal for each of the students based on activity level and time of day.

ACE nutrition 2

Create Dinner for Tonight

Dinner menu: Pulled BBQ Chicken Wrap. Each student could choose between a whole-wheat bun or coconut wrap. This brought us back to our conversation from earlier about how some carbs make us feel good or bad and that we have options. Using another portion of chicken, we poured BBQ sauce over the chicken, stirred until the chicken was covered evenly, and piled the BBQ chicken onto the bun or wrap. Some preferred a toasted bun with sharp cheddar cheese and others did not. Although the bun is not the cleanest source of carbs, it serves as a better source, comparatively. I also wanted to reinforce that we don’t have to go to a fast food restaurant to buy a yummy sandwich. The gluten-free wrap with three ingredients provided an alternative to eating the bun. Again, based on our rough meal plans from earlier, we also pinpointed when this could serve as a good meal for each of the students based on activity level and time of day.

We ate dinner, cleaned up our mess, and packed lunch for tomorrow and the remaining container of chicken in to-go bags. Each student also received an easy recipe for a chicken dip to showcase how a snack made at home can include lean meat.

ACE nutrition 4

From what I observed and heard through our final Q&A, a lot of light bulbs turned on. Overall, the group agreed that this process of planning and cooking would get more efficient as time went on and it was worth their efforts since school and exercise are priorities. Perfect! In an hour’s time, we successfully learned how to portion a rotisserie chicken, cook two quick, healthy, and inexpensive meals, appropriately pack our meals, and introduce meal choices and timing.

Obviously, this can be helpful for every college student, yet most importantly (supporting the purpose of this column) recognizes how young adults on the spectrum have aspirations for living a healthy life too.

In the next article, I’ll share my strength and movement lesson plan with this group (again, derived from their questions, needs, and interests). Thanks for reading and be sure to ask any questions or give feedback in the comments section below. Thank you.

A New Kid Under the Bar