Strategies for Success
When my son Maison was a toddler we couldn't get im to eat much of anything exccept for Chicken Nuggets, Fries, Pizza, Cheese Puffs and Doritoz. As his mom I became concerned when I noticed his hyper activity. He didnt have the ability to sit down for more than 1 minute.
After consulting a few other parents in a support group I decided to embark on a journey to introduce new foods to my son.
Parenting a child with autism comes with its unique challenges, one of which is helping them develop a varied and balanced diet. Autistic children may have sensory sensitivities, routines, and food aversions that make trying new foods a complex task. However, with patience, understanding, and the right strategies, you can gradually expand your child's palate and create a positive mealtime experience. In this blog post, we'll explore practical tips and strategies to encourage your child to try different foods.
1. Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment:
Before embarking on the journey of introducing new foods, consider your child's sensory sensitivities. Make sure the dining environment is comfortable and not overwhelming in terms of noise, light, or other sensory stimuli. Maison was very sensitive to noise and I didnt even realize it. Just a normal conversation between my husband and I would send him into full Meltdown. This taught me to monitor and change our environment according to his needs. Lights, Noise, Activities they can all have a negative impact on our children. Maybe play relaxing music on youtube during dinner. DO everything you can to create a peaceful environment. Here is a link to something I played on the tv during dinner.
2. Gradual Exposure:
Start with foods that are similar in taste or texture to what your child already likes. Gradually introduce new foods by mixing them with familiar ones. This approach minimizes the shock of a completely unfamiliar food.
3. Visual Supports:
Visual schedules, social stories, or visual aids can help explain the process of trying new foods to your child. These visuals reduce anxiety and provide predictability in mealtime routines.
4. Food Play and Exploration:
This is a big one. Especially if your child is anything like mine and doesnt like slimy foods, wet foods, or certain strong smelling foods. Allow them some time outside of dinner to touch and feel different foods. This may seem wasteful but its not. There is a purpose for it. Encourage your child to interact with food in non-eating ways. Allow them to touch, smell, and play with it. This can help them become more familiar with new textures and reduce food-related anxiety.
5. Incorporate Preferred Foods:
Mix a small amount of a new food with a preferred food your child already enjoys. Over time, gradually increase the ratio of the new food, making the transition smoother. Do this on a consistent basis. Not just a few times, all the time.
Example: if they only like nuggest and fries, try nuggest fries and broccoli. also after there preferred food is done keep offering the new food.
6. Model Eating:
Children often learn by observing others. Eat the new food in front of your child, express how much you enjoy it, and encourage them to join in. This really worked for Maison. One day i made my family loaded nachos and i made Maison just a plate with rice ground beef and nacho chips. He was wathing me eat my dinner while saying yummy yummy and he grabbed my hand with a loaded nacho and ate it! He wanted more off of my plate. Sour cream, Salsa, Guacamole all things that he would not normally like. He enjoyed that day.
7. Positive Reinforcement:
Use positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or a preferred activity, after your child tries a new food. This will make the experience more rewarding and encourage their willingness to explore new flavors.
8. Respect Sensory Sensitivities:
Understand your child's sensory sensitivities and work with them. If they are sensitive to certain textures or flavors, try to accommodate those preferences as you introduce new foods. Don't overwhlem them.
9. Create a Routine:
Establish a mealtime routine that your child can predict. Predictability can provide comfort and reduce mealtime anxiety. Eating around the same time daily. I only introduce new foods during dinner.
10. Make a Food Journal:
Creating a food journal is a powerful tool in this journey. Keep track of new foods that your child likes. Record details such as the name of the food, date, presentation, your child's reaction, and any rewards or positive reinforcement used. Regularly review the journal to identify patterns and preferences, which will help you plan future meals and gradually expand your child's food choices. This can help you to create new meals that they may like.
Example: I noticed that Maison does not like spaghetti but he would pick the ground meat out of it and eat it. I then started making meals around the ground turkey and ground beef. One of his favorite is Salsbury Steak.
11. Be Patient and consistent:
Progress may be gradual, and your child may need repeated exposure to a new food before they are comfortable trying it. Be patient and understanding throughout the process. Rome wasn't built in a day. Give them time. Be consistent!! Be consistent! Be consistent! The only way this will work is if you keep at it. You cant ry 2 or 3 times and quit. This took months for us. finally maison eats alot more foods. Even fruits and veggies!
12. Avoid Pressure:
Avoid pressuring your child to eat a particular food, as this can lead to resistance. Instead, make trying new foods a positive and low-stress experience. If Maison bites a food and spits it out I respond "Its ok buddy you dont like it?" and we try again
13. Consult a Specialist:
If your child's food aversions are severe or significantly impact their health, consider consulting a pediatrician, a speech or occupational therapist, or a nutritionist with experience in working with autistic children. They also have something called food therapy and I've seen it work for alot of autistic children.
14. Consider Food Chaining:
Food chaining is a systematic method of introducing new foods based on the child's existing food preferences. It involves making small, gradual changes to the preferred food to encourage the acceptance of new foods.
In conclusion, encouraging your child with autism to try new foods may take time and patience, but it's a journey worth embarking on for their overall health and well-being. Remember that every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Be adaptable in your approach, seek guidance from professionals when needed, and most importantly, create a positive and supportive mealtime environment. With persistence and the right strategies, you can help your child expand their palate and develop healthy eating habits.
Here are a few things that help me when introducing new foods.
I use these to cut new vegetables for Maison to make it a little fun.
I use these specific plates to help us to keep new foods in a specific section. I at least try to present 1 non preferred food every day for dinner. It also makes it fun for Maison.
Okay Guys have an amazing time and be sure to post some pictures and videos of your praise reports and tag us so we can share. @Momentsofjoypodcast
Enjoy this FREE food journal for tracking!