We asked our advisory group if they had any tips for selective (picky) eating and adding new foods to a diet.
- I definitely recommend investigating the SOS Approach to Feeding: https://www.spdstar.org/basic/feeding-therapy. At the core of feeding difficulties in autism, it may well be sensory processing differences, combined with a lack of experience with a range of textures, tastes, smells and appearances. The SOS approach acknowledges that autistic children have avoidances and preferences that limit their exposure to a range of foods, therefore, limiting their interest in foods.
- Introducing foods to autistic children is a gradual process and should be done in the context of non-demanding and fun interactions and experiences. We have had success for a range of families and children who begin to regularly explore foods for their properties and supporting them to tolerate, accept, manipulate, and investigate without the expectation of putting the food in their mouth. For families, this may their biggest challenge; getting a child to eat foods that the family eats, as well as encouraging sit down to eat.
- Establishing regular mealtime routines that are interactive and fun, but also predictable and ‘safe’ for the child to explore foods at their own initiative, is also recommended. Of course, positive behaviours support strategies and visual support strategies will provide the child with support to establish this routine
Lived experience/family experience
- As I child I ate only a very limited range of foods as so many things just offended my tastebuds. As I got older this slowly widened and now my diet is limited only by multiple intolerances, not an unwillingness to try stuff (although I still have sensory issues with some foods like watermelon and fizzy drinks). I think rather than trying to find ways to force kids to eat, just present them with lots of options and let them see you eating it all. Many autistics don’t want foods mixed together, so we often made simple meals where they could assemble it as they liked e.g. like tacos.
- From personal experience I introduced lots of vegetables (carrots, peas, broccoli, corn, cucumber, sweet potato, beetroot) to my son as a toddler so as he grew up, he got used to fruits and vegetables. Make soups (celery, carrot, leek, potato, mushroom, different meats) to introduce new food and flavour. Making pizzas can be creative and fun for the kids especially if they make their own. Have lots of fruits available at home and try turning them into smoothies or make fruit kebabs.
- For parents in the early stages post diagnosis, I’d say “don’t sweat it.” If your child eats the same thing every day, it’s not the end of the world. Of course, seek medical advice if concerned, or if a child isn’t ‘thriving.’ But from experience intervention from dieticians is a bit hit and miss anyway – they are pretty laid back as to how a child gets their 5+ a day. We were told tomato sauce counted for 1 vegetable 😂 which is fortunate as it is her favourite!
- My kid loves spaghetti bolognese and I have adapted the recipe to include veges like carrot, real tomatoes, broccoli and spinach. When I’m experimenting, I always keep aside a portion with no added extras in case she doesn’t like the new ingredient which I can easily alternate. I freeze small portions to reheat and serve with some of whatever the rest of the family is eating that night (eg steamed veges, salad, garlic bread, etc) so I can now avoid cooking 2-3 different meals for family members every night.