Refusing to eat, or difficult behaviors during meals, can be frustrating to say the least. These are my 12 Ways to help a picky eater on the autism spectrum learn to eat new foods, different types and textures of foods, new flavors and more. Let’s bring the fun back to mealtimes!
1. Rule out food sensitivities and allergies
If you suspect that your child may have food allergies or sensitivities, I recommend going for allergy testing. If you do detect allergies or sensitivities that first step towards helping your child is eliminating the foods that are creating health problems from your child’s diet.
2. Gluten free diet
Many children with autism have a food sensitivity or allergy to gluten. Many parents swear by gluten free diets and say that they observe behavioural differences in their children once they begin reducing or eliminating gluten from their child’s diet. If you choose to follow a gluten free diet, make sure you read my autism food list.
Related : gluten free snacks for kids with autism
3. Create a system and present new foods gradually
Use this free printable picky eating worksheet to track the foods you present to your child and the progress you are making.
4. Hide the fruits and veggies!
I know the concern of wanting to make sure your child is eating a complete and healthy diet and the frustration you can feel when your child refses to eat certain foods.
There are some fun and creative ways to sneak fruits and veggies into your little one’s food regime.
- 16 Best Smoothie Recipes for Kids
- Hidden Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce Recipe
- Hidden Veggie Breakfast Cookie Recipe
5. Create motivation by making it fun!
When a situation, such as refusing to eat, has become a huge source of stress for the whole family, each time the situation begins again (each mealtime) increased stress and frustration ensues.
It’s time to change the direction of the situation!
You need to make meal time positive and fun again. Don’t push your child past what is comfortable. Families often fear that their children will stop eating completely following a food refusal but most of the time if you wait and let your child lead, he or she will choose to eat when really hungry.
Some picky eaters with autism fixate on eating one type of each food. Often this can be as specific as eating only one brand of cheese, chicken, yogurt, etc. Sometimes certain food groups – such as fruits and vegetables – are excluded all together.
Do not fear! There are solutions to this.
Little by little, help your child generalize starting with his or her favorite foods. If your child currently loves chicken nuggets and only eats one brand, it is unrealistic to expect him to eat 3 types of chicken nuggets and start eating strawberries immediately. Reinforce trying a new brand of chicken nuggets first by giving one bite of the old brand and one bite of the new brand. The old (preferred) brand will reinforce just trying a bit of the new brand. Once your child has mastered eating different kinds of the same food, you can go ahead with trying different foods.
7. Pair eating with other pleasant activities
Play some favorite music and keep 2 or 3 preferred toys nearby to make meal time positive for your child again rather than focusing on pushing your child to eat as much as possible and as quickly as possible.
8. Write it all down
(Take notes and track progress to make sure what you are doing is helping.)
Use the free printable picky eaters worksheet below to track the foods you are presenting to your child and your child’s progress.
9. Use visual support
There are many ways that visual support can help picky eaters try new foods.
Visual recipes – have your child participate in preparing foods so that he or she is part of the experience.
Visual schedule for meals – use a photo of each item to show your child what will be eaten during the meal.
Visual schedule (before and after) – show your child what he or she will eat and what will happen afterwards. For example, 1/ take a bite of chicken and 2/ watch 2 minutes of a cartoon.
10. Use other learning tools as back up
I like to pair stories with learning situations.
I love these books that break down meal times for kids.
11. Seek professional help
If your child’s behavior around meal times is very complex, I recommend scheduling a coaching session to work through it step by step.
12. Take your time.
Teaching picky eaters to eat a diverse array of foods takes time. Remain calm and patient and work with your child step by step towards progress.
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