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Picky Eating & Autism: Help Your Child Try New Foods

As a Sleep Consultant, I know the importance of food and nutrition and how it plays into behavior and sleep. However, the types of foods these kids are putting into their bodies, is usually a significant pain point for the parents that I work alongside. Sure, they want their tot to eat healthy – of course! But, that food ends up sitting cold for hours on end. Has your child won the battle in your household? If so, you are not alone and it is ever so challenging to fix on your own.

I try to consider elements from a child’s point of view, and then give the parents strategies to make an impact. In fact, I learned everything I know from years of early intervention with my own former picky eater, as well as these fabulous books: Food Chaining & Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater. I have a few good tactics to share with you that are tried and true; but it’s true what they say - no two children are alike, Autism or not. Therefore, when considering these tips, you’ll have to think about what motivates your child specifically so that you can make this work for your family.

First thing is first, you have to throw out your rule book. Because we are going to start playing with food at the table, and that may have been a no-no up until now. I mean, we are really going to go nuts with it. Gather up the food that your child cannot stand: broccoli, cheese, eggs, yogurt, meat, and so forth - and let’s have some fun! The idea is to continue to expose your child to these foods and create a healthy relationship with these food choices. They won’t always play with this food – and eventually they will be so comfortable and familiar that they'll give it a try, perhaps happily to do so!

In order to pull this off, this will have to require a lot of patience on your behalf. Something tells me you are used to patience by now. You really have to drop the expectation that you want your child to eat this food – TODAY. Your new objective is simply getting your little one used to these new or unwanted textures that they are having a tough time digesting, and that will likely be starting with the sense of touch. Just touch - for now. So, back to what motivates your child? Is it cars, dinosaurs, toy animals, or dolls? You are going to need a plan (and a happy, upbeat attitude) along with your motivator of choice.

In this example, we are going to use cheese. We know that dear child gags at the site of this food so we can slowly make some changes and build up tolerance. Your starting place may be having your child just watch you play with the cheese. Try building a road or racetrack, make a funny face with the food, or make a cheese tower. Count the little pieces, smash them up, roll it with a pin – go crazy! Did you know that toy dinosaurs like to eat cheese? It’s true! Most importantly, reward your child with praise and stay pleasant during the process. Do this a few times a week and then move on to another food. Keep cycling through the food that are “problems” for your child.

Also, this food tray pictured below is the most amazing, yet simple tool for parents of picky eaters. If you have a child that is motivated by praise (and candy/sweets), this can be a game changer. Both of my boys have one of these and we use it all of the time. It is the Fred & Friends DINNER WINNER Tray, and it presents itself in the form of a game! Now, my oldest took to it like a champ and understood quickly that there's a starting point and a finish line (that is where you hide the goodies, or perhaps a token for technology, etc.)! However, my youngest bee-lined straight for the candy at the finish line, so I had to sit with him the first several times as a teaching opportunity.

You can use it for everyday use, but also to try to incorporate new or challenging foods for your children. I like to strategically place the problem food just once throughout the meal, and a small piece at that. (I put it right in the middle surrounded by preferred foods). You have to determine your plan going into the meal – do you just want your child to start by touching the food three times? Or is your expectation for them to touch their tongue to it, or eat it before moving on? If you aren’t consistent with your intentions then your child will play you like a fiddle!

This is a wonderful addition to a picky eater’s dinner table. Surprise your kids with this new food tray, available on Amazon (affiliate link): Fred & Friends DINNER WINNER Tray

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