Tips To Enjoying Meals Together!
Mealtimes can be one of the most difficult times of the day for many parents, especially for those with children on the autism spectrum. According to The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders children with autism are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as “extremely narrow food selections, ritualistic eating behaviors (e.g. no foods can touch) and meal-related tantrums.” Behavioral Health Works understands how important it is for your child to have a healthy and filling meal so here are 5 ways to help your little one eat a delicious and nutritious meal with hopefully some challenges minimized.
- Rule Out Health Issues: It’s not uncommon for children with autism to have health issues that make eating difficult. Common health issues that can result in an unpleasant mealtime experience can be dental cavities, physical difficulty with chewing and painful acid reflux. Be sure to check with your child’s physician to determine if any of these may be the cause of your child’s loss of appetite.
- Stay Calm: Be patient as your child explores and samples new foods. Many children need to taste food multiple times before they are willing to eat it. If your child continues to reject food even after multiple times, it could just indicate that your child may not like it. If this is the case, attempt trying an alternative. For example if your child doesn’t like broccoli, attempt substituting it with a green vegetable(s) that has the same nutritional value.
- Take Baby Steps Towards Trying New Foods: Many of us are reluctant to try something new especially if it does not look appetizing to us. This includes children. Help your child explore new foods by looking at it, touching it, and even smelling it. Take the food item out of the bag and show your child how it looks. When they are ready to taste the new food, you can suggest having your child lick the item or take a small bite. This will allow them to gradually adjust their tastebuds to the new food. Sometimes, mixing a new food with another favorite food item can help with this process as well.
- Play with Textures: Children on the autism spectrum tend to be sensitive to textures which can lead them to not particularly like certain foods. When easing your child towards new foods, be sure to keep in mind the texture that your child may feel in their mouth when eating it. For example a tomato. The squishiness of this fruit may be the reason why your child isn’t particularly fond of this item. Try chopping or blending these foods and incorporating them in different ways in your child’s meal. Such as how a squishy tomato can be transformed into a saucy salsa or a succulent pasta sauce.
- Sit Together At A Table For Meals: Eating together provides your child with more than just a nice family meal. Your child is able to learn “environmental cues” which will assist them in learning what they are suppose to be doing during a meal. It also creates a comforting environment for your child which will encourage them to enjoy meal time.