Getting your child with autism to try different foods can be challenging and stressful. Typically, children with ASD are more selective eaters than neuro-typical children which makes ensuring the proper intake of vitamins and nutrients a daily struggle for parents. These picky eating patterns often lead to nutritional deficiencies that can have lasting effects on ASD symptoms and overall health.
While this task may seem daunting given the potential effects of your child’s eating habits, it is important to remain calm. There is an ever-increasing pool of knowledge from scientists and ASD parents that can help navigate dinner table tantrums and picky eating. Below are four tips for introducing new foods and links to other resources and information:
- Keep a Food Journal: Taking note of what your child eats every day can help with understanding particular sensory/texture issues, and will assist health specialists in diagnosing any gastrointestinal problems that are affecting your child’s selectivity.
- Take Baby Steps: As you more clearly understand which textures your child may reject or accept you can start adding new foods into their diet. Most kids with ASD are resistant to change. Therefore, it is important to take this slowly and ensure your child remains as comfortable as possible. You can begin, for example, by simply having the new food on the table during mealtime and build steadily from there with each meal. Maybe the next day have them smell it, touch it, play with it, etc. until she/he is comfortable taking an entire bite., Autism Community in Action (TACA) provides a detailed step-by-step process for adding more healthy and nutritious foods into your child’s diet.
- Make Mealtimes a Scheduled Routine: Keeping mealtimes around the same hour every day with the same seating and/or lighting can help your child remain comfortable while you introduce changes to their diet. It is also important, however, to stick to a schedule. If your schedule dictates that you eat three meals a day with two snacks, try your best to maintain that order and to only give rewards when goals, however small, are achieved.
- Make Food Together: Involving your child in food preparation brings them into contact with new textures in a fun and creative way without the immediate expectation that they will have to eat it. Allow them to choose which meal to prepare from a list you provide so she/he can decide which textures to interact with. Even if they don’t eat the meal that day, it is a great first step and an introduction to something new.
Helpful Links for Your Food Journey:
- Recipes with hidden nutrition – myfussyeater.com
- Recommendations for eating programs – Autism Parenting Magazine.
- Practical tips for picky eaters – The Child Mind Institute
- Healthy lunch ideas and mealtime hacks – autism nutritionist, Jenny Friedman
- Relatable tips about autism and food – Coming Home to Autism (youtube).