Eating a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet is essential for growing children.
However, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often sensitive to different textures and tastes, making it difficult to encourage new foods.
This article will dive into some helpful tips for overcoming sensory issues and outline a few ASD-friendly strategies to try with your child.
Get Your Child Involved
Getting your child involved in the meal preparation process can increase their interest and willingness to try new foods.
Start by letting your child choose a new food to try, and then help them learn about where the food comes from and how it's prepared.
This process can include researching the food, looking at pictures, and discussing its taste and texture.
Learning about different foods and how they are made is a great way to let your child experience food differently.
At ABA Centers FL, parents are counseled to include their children on the spectrum to participate in everyday activities, and preparing food is no exception.
Allowing your child to help with meal preparation, such as measuring ingredients, stirring, or setting the table, can increase their sense of ownership of the meal.
When children feel invested in the meal, they are likelier to try new foods and textures.
Try Gradual Exposure
Slow and steady wins the race when introducing new food and textures to a child with ASD.
Remember that the important thing is making progress; you don't have to get them to eat every vegetable overnight.
For example, a child used to pureed food can gradually move towards mashed foods, then small soft pieces, and eventually, larger and firmer pieces of food.
Adding small amounts of new foods and textures with familiar foods is also helpful to increase the likelihood that the child will try them.
This approach can help reduce anxiety and sensory overload, making mealtimes less stressful for children with ASD.
Use Hidden Veggies
Don't hesitate to be strategically sneaky when it comes to the nutritional wellness of your child.
Hiding vegetables and nutritious foods in other foods is a useful strategy to ensure that children with ASD get all the nutrients they need.
For example, you can add pureed carrots to spaghetti or pizza sauce.
Other ideas include adding pureed sweet potatoes or zucchini to muffins or blending cauliflower or butternut squash into mac and cheese.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Patience and positive reinforcement are paramount when introducing new textures and foods to your child with ASD.
Children with ASD may need repeated exposure to new foods before they feel comfortable trying them.
Praising them for trying new foods, even if it's just a small taste, can build their confidence and encourage them to try new things in the future.
Consider putting a reward system in place for trying new things, such as extra time with a favorite toy or a small treat.
Follow a Routine
Finally, following a routine is essential for creating a calm dining experience.
Try to ensure dinner is around the same time each day and give ample warning before dinner time to prepare your child for the transition.
It's also helpful to have a set weekly menu with a designated “new food day.”
With these tips, you can work toward improving your child's nutrition and ensuring they get the vitamins they need to grow and thrive.