It can be frustrating and downright scary to watch your child not eat enough food or eat the same two or three types of food day in and day out. It’s not uncommon for children on the autism spectrum or children who have texture sensitivities to be extremely picky eaters. In fact, children who are on the spectrum are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges, like not wanting different foods to touch, texture sensitivities and taste sensitivities. 1
But there are a few tricks to get your child, whether she is on the autism spectrum or not, to eat more and more of a variety. If your child has an aversion to a certain food, perhaps it’s because that food is giving her an upset stomach. Absolutely any food can cause gastrointestinal distress, but common foods that do are those that contain gluten, casein (the protein in dairy products), excessive fructose, such as sodas, candy and fruit juices, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage and beans.
If any of these are foods that you eat regularly, try to cut the food from your child’s diet for three weeks to see if that helps.
Gluten and Casein
Gluten and casein can be rough to cut out. Many high needs children are addicted to these foods, which is often the signal that they are problematic. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, spelt, rye and most oats, which may sound daunting, but gluten-free consciousness is growing by leaps and bounds and it’s not too difficult to find a gluten-free version of your child’s favorite food. I do have to warn you, however – most gluten-free substitutes are really unhealthy, filled with preservatives and unfortunate ingredients. If you do find that your child has a gluten sensitivity or if she is diagnosed with celiac, it’s a good idea to try your hand at your own healthy culinary masterpieces. Elana’s Pantry can help. Her recipes are dairy free, too.
If you’re trying to introduce a new food and you’re running into trouble, try mixing it into a food that she will eat. You can keep reducing the amount of the food that she likes by tiny increments, getting her more and more used to the new food. For instance, liver in an incredibly nutrient dense food, sadly not eaten nearly enough by most Westerners. To introduce it into your child’s diet, just mix it into some ground beef or chicken in small amounts, increasing the amount of liver over time. It may really take a lot of time, but that’s ok.
Foods with an offending texture can be chopped, sautéed, blended or otherwise changed to help the child feel more comfortable eating.
Try to have your child involved in meals and meal planning. Giving her a choice or asking her about her preferences is a way to give her some control and may make a huge difference in her behavior. She may be more responsive to eating food that she picked out of helped prepare, even if it’s something that she would have had nothing to do with before.
Be vigilant! And try to stay calm. If you are consistently serving food to your child, she won’t starve. It can take a few tastes for her to finally decide that she actually likes the new food.
Is your child incredibly picky? What tricks do you have to get your child to eat new foods? Tell me about it in the comments below!