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Three Evanston organizations, Have Dreams, Cooked Chicago, and NWC Food Incubator (formerly Now We’re Cookin’), hosted a free cooking class about healthy eating for individuals with food sensory issues on October 8. Chef Jona Silva of Cooked Chicago showed participants how to prepare three sensory-appealing dishes: fruit smoothies, flat bread pizzas, and a tacos. Feeding Specialist Alyson Teitel was on hand to give tips that parents and caregivers could use to help their children engage in positive eating behaviors. Everyone in the audience received hands on experience by making pizzas and tacos individualized to their own tastes and sensitivities.

Have Dreams was able to bring this event to the community thanks to a grant from the Astellas USA Foundation. With locations in Evanston and Park Ridge, Have Dreams offers social, communication, life skills, and vocational programs for children, teens and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and specialized training workshops for educators and parents. Childhood and adolescent obesity is 50 percent more common in individuals with developmental disabilities as compared to typically developing children and adolescents. Individuals with autism are at double that risk. Astellas has helped implement a Healthy Eating Initiative at Have Dreams, which has encouraged Have Dreams participants to broaden their food choices, take steps toward eating healthy versions of their favorite foods, and sample new foods with nutritional value.

Angie Ali, whose son attends Have Dreams, participated in the free cooking class with Chef Jona. “I am so happy they offered this class, because every waiting room I’m in, this is the number one topic that parents talk about. Learning how to introduce foods to children with food sensory issues is so important, especially when they are young,” she said.