If you have a picky eater, you’re not alone, especially if your picky eater also has autism. An estimated 46-89% of children with autism spectrum disorder have an eating issue such as food aversions and unusual eating patterns and rituals. For parents of children with autism, mealtimes may also bring concern and stress from watching kids not eat and witnessing tantrums. The good news is that with patience and a little creativity, there are methods that parents can use to help get even their pickiest eaters to eat.
Below are some methods to consider trying to encourage your child to eat various foods. Many kids with autism also have food allergies, so parents should introduce new food families carefully to make sure there are no allergic reactions.
As hard as it may be, it’s essential to stay calm while trying to get your child to eat. Many children need to taste a food multiple times before they eat it without protest. Children with autism may take even longer to eat different foods willingly. If your child continues to reject a food after several tries, perhaps it’s because he doesn’t like it. Consider trying a different version of that food, such as cook and mash apples to make apple sauce versus offering a sliced apple. You may also want to try pairing the food with something else, such as providing celery with ranch dressing instead of celery with peanut butter.
Encourage the use of other senses
Although “taste” is what we associate the most with food, we use all five senses when we eat. Since people with autism are often hyper or hypo-sensitive to a wide range of stimuli, consider introducing new foods to your child through other senses, such as have him explore a new food by looking at it, touching it, and smelling it. When he’s ready for a taste, he can try “kissing” or licking the food before putting a whole bite into his mouth. If it’s a crunchy food, consider encouraging your child to listen to the sounds that get made while they chew it.
Try new textures
Many food aversions have more to do with how it feels versus how it tastes. For example, your child may not like the way a banana feels when it’s eaten by itself but does not mind it when it’s blended to make a smoothie.
Make food at mealtime secondary
You can use family mealtime as an opportunity to enjoy an activity like playing a game or listening to a story from an audiobook. When food becomes more secondary, new foods can become less scary.
Your child may need to feel some control over what she puts into her mouth. So try to offer choices within the food groups you want your child to eat. For example, you might decide that your child needs to have at least one serving of vegetables and one serving of protein with her dinner. You can give your child a few different options for each and ask her to pick the one she likes best. Or try letting your child choose the “colors” that she wants to eat and let her know how many “colors” she needs to eat. For example, if you say that she needs to eat three colors, she could have a portion of “brown” meat, some “green” vegetables, and “white” mashed potatoes.
If you would like more tips on finding creative ways to help your picky eater eat or would like individualized assistance, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.