Here are simple tricks I have used go get autistic clients, picky eaters, and my own kids to broaden their food base and get them to eat healthier foods.
Getting kids to eat can be a real challenge… especially if you have a picky eater! And of course, some autistic children have a marked dislike for certain consistencies or smells, which can make it hard to get them to try new things. (This works for some husbands too.)
Offer your kids healthy snacks when they are hungry… such as before dinner.
Remember, you goal is to allow your child to save face if she changes her mind. So be nonchalant… just leave healthy snacks out in a matter-of-fact manner. If your child objects, just say, “That’s fine if you don’t want these. I’ll leave these out in case you change your mind or I want some.”
Get the focus off the food by using a distraction
- Offer the food while your child is watching a TV show.
- Have the snacks on the ride home from a soccer game, and discuss the game.
Make sure your snacks are bite size so your child won’t choke in the car ride.
- Go on a ‘car picnic’ in the rain. Park where you can watch large trucks or cranes doing construction.
- Read a book while your child is eating.
- Put some snacks in a little paper bag that your child can put in his hot wheels or toy car to take on his ‘trip’.
- I once got an Aspergers child to try grapes by letting him sit under the table on a blanket, with his siblings, while I read them a book!
- Everything tastes better on a picnic! Even if the picnic is in a tent in your dining room on a rainy day!
- Put snacks in a lunch box so your toddler can pretend he is at school (like his older sibling) while she eats.
Make a little sugar go a long way. For some reason, sugar sprinkled on TOP of food tastes sweeter.
- A little brown sugar sprinkled on squash and butter can make squash taste like a treat! You can even say, “Oh dear did I put too much sugar on? I hope it is not too sweet!”
- Let your child dip food, for example apples in peanut butter, carrots in humus, pears in yogurt and so on.
Make food look interesting:
- Make a face with the food. It does not have to be elaborate, any face will do!
- Make the food look interesting, for example make your mashed potatoes green for St. Patrick’s day, or cut sandwiches with a cookie cutter.
- Cut the food into small pieces and serve it on a tea party set. Have a picnic, in the back yard, in a tent under the table, or even in the car!
The main thing is to act relaxed and matter-of-fact, even if you are feeling panicked that your child is not eating enough. Your child is not going to starve, even if it seems like she is eating very little!
If you are anxious about how much your child’s diet, contact your pediatrician for advice and reassurance. If your child is on the autism scale, make use of whatever services are available to you to help your child expand his menu. And remember, this too shall pass!