Trying to ensure your child eats a lunch that is appealing to them, is decent and also healthy is one of the many challenges a parent faces everyday. And for parents with an autistic child, this challenge becomes even harder!
Autism plays a huge role when it comes to food and feeding. Children with autism are much more likely to be selective in what they will, and will not eat. Fear of new foods and outright refusal to eat at all is a common concern that most parents have.
But fear not! There’s still hope for those who are in desperate need of a solution.
Here are 5 helpful tips to pick out lunch ideas for autistic children.
1. Sensory Reactions
Sensory reactions play a big part in the foods an autistic child will and will not eat. In fact, picky eaters in general, whether they’re autistic or not, will usually have intense sensory reactions to food, based on smell, taste and texture. For most autistic children these sensory reactions can be heightened which can result in them completely refusing to eat.
Identify which sorts of texture your child does and doesn’t like. For example do they like smooth textures such as yogurt or ice-cream? Does food like granola with lots of texture, make them want to run a mile? Figuring this out can be half the battle in streamlining lunch ideas for autistic child, this way you’ll know what to avoid.
Many autistic children will have distinct preferences as to what flavours they prefer. Some children might like quite bland food without strong flavours. If so then some great food options include: breadsticks, pancakes, rice, weetabix and fish fingers. Some children might have opposite tastes and may prefer strong, spicy or sour flavours.
Another sensory reaction your child may have to food is temperature. If you’re looking for lunch ideas for autistic child, understand what they want. for a If they prefer cold food, then some great options include sandwiches, carrot sticks with hummus, and fresh fruit. On the contrary, if they prefer hot foods, things like pasta, rice and beans and scrambled eggs can be a treat.
Tip: If your child likes to have their food hot, it may be a good idea to talk to the school staff, as they may be able to accommodate your child’s preferences.
2. Building Acceptance To New Foods
Let’s say your child’s ultimate favourite food is spaghetti without any sauce. You can start off stretching their food acceptance by maybe offering a different brand of white spaghetti, or another type of spaghetti and then trying brown rice. Eventually, you’ll move to spaghetti with a little sauce, and then butter etc. The idea here is to offer a food that remains similar looking while building tolerance to incremental and small changes.
However, it is important to take baby steps, for example, a change from spaghetti to pasta, might be too much too handle simply because they look so different. In this case, lunch ideas for autistic child would majorly incorporate things that the child enjoys but with negligible changes.
3. Family Meals
Though this may not always be possible, you should always try your best to sit together at the table for mealtimes. Environmental cues are helpful to all children – especially autistic children. It helps them learn what they are supposed to be doing.
Additionally, eating together can help your child learn through imitation. It’s like they’re almost wired to copy other people, and if they see you putting a new food in your mouth, they would be likely to do so as well.
The idea here is to make mealtime as comfortable as can be to encourage your child to eat and try new things.
4. Have Food Discussions
Many children learn to escape eating by engaging in whining, spitting, banging on the table and throwing a tantrum. As difficult as it may be, try and ignore these challenging behaviors and engage in a conversation about the food instead. This can involve asking the following questions to get them involved in “food learning.”
- What sound does this food make when you chew it?
- Is this a wet food or dry food?
- What other foods are the same colour?
- Does this have a big smell or little smell?
As well as teaching your child about different foods, you will be able to judge by their reactions which foods they seem interested in and which they don’t like.
One way to make lunch time easier is to let your child make choices. This will give them an element of control over what they’re eating which, in turn reduces stress at mealtimes. Visuals can work really well for children with limited speech. For example, visual timetables can allow a nonverbal child to choose foods and also helps them prepare for what’s about to come.
Autism and its related food issues are not easy. It will take time to implement new changes get your child used to it all. However, it’s not impossible! Just follow these five lunch ideas for autistic child and you’ll be on the road to a stress free lunchtime in no time.
Till then, happy cooking!