Eating and Nutrition for Autistic Children

Now we all know the challenges associated with a picky eater, particular during the early years when we are laying a nutritional foundation for our children. One day mac & cheese, next chicken nuggets for a week.  Feeding your children properly is critical for most parents and it often emerges into a battle of wills, which often leads to parents surrendering to their child because we just want them to eat.

Now couple this fundamental developmental premise with an autistic child; many of which have food allergies, higher levels of yeast, gastrointestinal problems and inability to break down certain proteins, the challenges begin. Recent studies suggest that children with ASD benefit from gluten free/casein free diet. Evidence suggests there are consistent deficiencies in vitamins and minerals that lead to inability to properly digest gluten and casein.  Now I know this is a little technical and may or may not be your plight, but it helps to have some background.  Nevertheless in the day-to-day meal planning strategies are needed to adequately meet your child’s nutritional needs.

1. Provide Choices

Use a visual to indicate taking one bite of a preferred food first, then a bite of a non-preferred food.  At times, the child needs  assurance they can have their preferred food in between other foods.

2. Slowly Introduce New Foods

Some children will have a behavioral explosion when new foods are introduce, don’t get alarmed, just slow the pace.  Intermittently increase the interaction with the new food, put the new item in a small bowl near their plate, over the next few days move it closer to their plate.  Once it makes it onto the plate, encourage touching the new food with utensils, then their fingers, let them smell it, taste it and ultimately swallow it.  This method may take a couple of weeks, but the reward is increased choices to build a well balanced diet.

3. Talk to the Professionals

Communicate with the pediatrician /nutritionist about your child’s eating habits and some insurance plans provide nutritional support as part of your coverage.

4. Exercise Emotional Control

Resist a power struggle with your child over food, you don’t want to create negative emotions and anxiety around food.  Remember, they will be eating for the rest of their lives, so if they don’t eat a particular food now, they may eat it later.

5. Accept that Eating Habits Evolve

Everyone changes eating habits as they grow, your child will too, so allow their taste buds to develop.  Your ultimate goal is to create consistent, nutritional intake of a variety of foods and from all the food groups.  So don’t fret if their diet consist of only a few choices from each group, its a foundation that has potential to expand.

6. Create Food Flexibility

Your child’s choices may not fit into a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner format, as such, if your child is only eating corn, chicken and cheese then serve it for breakfast.  It’s far more important for them to get a nutritional meal then forcing it into a predetermined time slot for the consumption of certain foods.  Your desire as a parent is for consistent nutrition despite the time of day they choose to eat it.

I hope these tips help, happy eating.

Yours Truly,

Venus A. David, M.Ed.