When You're the Parent Ordering 'Just a Bun' at McDonald's


I don’t want to be that customer. I would love to walk into McDonald’s and just order a Happy Meal and be done. Nope, that’s not me.

You see, my son only eats the bun. So my order goes like this: “I would like a bun, just the bun, no meat, no ketchup, mustard, pickles or onions or cheese.” The cashier looks at me confused. “Yes, that’s right, I just want the bun, a plain bun with nothing on it.” The manager usually has to come over and show the cashier how to ring it up. I am happy to pay full price for just the bun. Then the kitchen staff always asks, “They just want a bun?” The cashier, manager and I all say yes.

We have about a 75-percent success rate. I always have to check before I leave the counter or the drive thru because undoubtedly I still get a bun with a hamburger patty or a bun, no meat but with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions. Occasionally I get a bun with cheese.

As much as I would love to be able to just take the meat off the bun, peel off the cheese or scrape the ketchup and mustard off the bun, I can’t. He would notice. He wouldn’t eat it, and I might lose a food option, and I can’t risk it.

My son, who is 10 years old, is on the autism spectrum. He has anxiety and sensory processing disorder (SPD). The list of foods he won’t eat or even try is long.

No meat, poultry, fish, seafood.

No chicken nuggets.

No cheese of any kind.

No pasta or any kind of noodle or rice.

No pizza.

No vegetables.

My son eats bread products, dry cereal, chips, occasionally yogurt, and a few fruits. He will drink Carnation instant breakfast, and he loves Aunt Annie’s Pretzels.

Even fruit is tricky.  Why do they call it seedless watermelon when it is filled with tiny white seeds? Let me tell you how hard it is to get every last seed out of a slice and not miss one. If I miss one and he either sees it or feels it in his mouth, he is done. Then watermelon is off the menu.

I have had multiple conversations with his pediatrician, therapist, psychiatrist and occupational therapist.  He has been in feeding groups where there are 27 steps to be able to eat a food. It starts with being able to tolerate being in the same room as the food, a few steps to being able to have it on your plate, a few more steps to touch it, then hold to your mouth. Then a few more steps to taking a bite and spitting it out, to finally eating and swallowing the food. Some foods he made it only to step 3, others to step 20. The handful of foods where he made it all the way to step 27 (chewing and swallowing) have come and gone.

My son food jags. He will find a food he can eat and then eat that food for a few weeks, months or if I’m lucky it might last a year.  Then out of nowhere he refuses to eat that food ever again and I’m left desperate to find something he will eat.

Going out to eat can be challenging for us all. The noise, smell and sight of different food can be painful for my son. He doesn’t want to have a meltdown, but sometimes they happen. There have been times I can watch the anxiety come over him. I can see it in his face. He doesn’t want to be difficult. He doesn’t want anyone to notice his discomfort or the fact that he can’t order anything off the menu.

So, if you’re behind me at McDonald’s, I am sorry my order is complicated. I don’t want to be the “high maintenance” customer. I would be ecstatic to be ordering a hamburger or chicken nuggets. I hope there will be a day he can order off the menu. But for now we are still just a plain bun, nothing but the bun.

Image via Thinkstock.

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