You’re not alone if your kid or grandchild has a finicky eating habit. Parents of autistic children report difficulties with too restrictive dietary habits in up to 70% of cases. These inclinations often persist until childhood and maturity.

Researchers are still working to determine the exact reason for selective eating in many autistic people as well as the best ways to extend food options through intervention. Our most recent Autism Speaks research initiative addresses underlying anxiety, rigidity, and sensory difficulties in order to increase meal choices. This new initiative focuses on the eating habits and aversions of older children and teenagers, who have not gotten as much attention as they should. Regardless of the age of the child, parents may use these techniques to broaden a child’s diet.

Techniques for encouraging finicky eaters to try new foods

Eliminate any medical concerns.

Prioritizing first, it’s critical to test out any underlying medical conditions or food allergies that may be contributing to a distaste for certain tastes or food categories. Due to gastrointestinal distress, several foods may be avoided by children. They may not be able to explain or recognize this link, however. Before beginning any new diet, speak with your physician to rule out any sensitivities or coexisting medical concerns.

It is very normal for a youngster to be wary of consuming a meal that has previously given them food sickness or nasty stomach pain. That’s just common sense!

Don’t let food be a point of contention.

Once you’ve established that a child’s fussy eating isn’t the result of medical concerns, you should follow one simple guideline: Don’t let food become a point of contention in your family.

Picky eating often results in conflicts and power struggles at the dinner table between kids and their parents, grandparents, or other caregivers. Getting into a fight with a kid or attempting to make them eat typically makes things worse. Alternatively, pause to consider other explanations for your child’s aversion to certain or unfamiliar meals.

Become more accustomed with time.

A lot of kids with autism don’t want to attempt new things. This is referred to as neophobia in psychology. Consider strategies to calm a child’s anxiety if they seem hesitant or fearful of new meals.

For instance, use a progressive approach rather than demanding that the youngster eat the new dish right away. You may just gaze at the new meal together first. You may then propose that the two of you touch it, smell it, or both. These are fantastic chances to enjoy activities and cuisine in a fun way. Suggest that your grandchild lick or taste the meal when you think they are ready.

For this first taste, it might often be beneficial to have a youngster combine the new cuisine with something they already know and love. By promoting familiarity, this methodical approach has been shown to reduce anxiety related to trying new foods.

Offer a diverse range of culinary options.

Additionally, it’s critical to provide kids with as many options as you can so they feel in charge of their meals. Let’s take an example where you want your grandkid to have a vegetable for supper. Give him the option to choose between peas, carrots, or salad rather than making him eat peas all the time. In a similar vein, you may allow your grandchild to choose three items from a vast choice of possibilities when it comes to eating. This method also teaches kids that although it’s OK to have dietary preferences—after all, who doesn’t enjoy something?—a varied diet is still crucial.

Similarly, if your grandchild’s favorite dish is macaroni and cheese, tell him that he has to include a surprise ingredient this time that the rest of the family will have to guess or find out about throughout the meal. Which does he get to pick—turkey, broccoli, or tomatoes? Arguments, tears, and meltdowns at the dinner table may be prevented by promoting choice and control within a set timeframe. It also promotes a more well-rounded and diverse diet.

Remember sensory issues.

Lastly, some children with autism spectrum disorders have sensory issues with food that go beyond taste. For instance, even if a toddler likes the taste, she may not appreciate how a cherry tomato melts on her tongue. Children may find it challenging to distinguish between the unsettling texture and the delicious flavor. If your grandchild has this kind of problem, look into imaginative ways to help them with their sensory difficulty. Smashing tomatoes before eating them (to prevent explosions!) or blending meals to combine textures may be helpful for the toddler. 

It is true that determining the causes of food aversions may be challenging. Undoubtedly, a distraught 5-year-old may find it difficult to articulate and comprehend the reason behind his discomfort with a certain dish.

A common mistake I see in parents is the use of rewards. Yes, the adage “you can have ice cream if you eat your broccoli” is true. This method won’t last in the long term, even if it could serve as a temporary solution. To get the incentive, your youngster could suck down the broccoli, but this strategy is unlikely to make him a bigger fan of the vegetable. Rather, we encourage children to develop more adaptable, healthy eating habits and to love a variety of foods.

It’s crucial that you assist him in solving his problems. Above all, the more enjoyable, the better! a bowl filled with watermelons. Make faces with pepperoni or veggies on pizzas. Use spaghetti sauce to paint. Play with the color and consistency changes that occur when you combine different substances. All of these activities will foster a child’s comfort level with a variety of meals, provide opportunities for taste testing, and maintain a positive dialogue about food. Regardless of age, kids will probably react well if mealtimes are made flexible, educational, filled with options, and, most importantly, enjoyable.

This is one instance when it’s OK to eat while playing!