Friday 23 November 2018

Helping my kids eat

Restricted diets.  Honestly, sometimes it can be depressing.  There's no medical reason why my boys can't eat things.  They are not allergic to anything (that I know of) and to most people it looks like I feed my kids the same food every day due to laziness. But it's not that.  I am in fact desperate to get them to eat a greater variety of foods.  If you are in the same boat, here's some of the ideas we have tried.

David will never be conned into eating anything different - and that's pretty common for kids with autism.  As he's pre-verbal there's not even much chance of us being able to tell why he will eat one chicken nugget brand and not another.

Anthony can at least explain why his feels he can't eat foods and this is sometimes the key to helping him expand his meals or add in healthy variations.  It's hard to tell whether little Jane is just following her brothers apparently fussy example or not.   But when I do figure something out about why the kids eat the way they do, I try to use it. If they can eat a wider variety of things it may make it easier for them in the long run.  Here's six things we think about.

1. Think about being similar, but not the same

Like I said, David can't be fooled into eating anything different. So there is no point in trying to sneak things into his diet.  He does however like foods certain ways. Things should be bite size - ready to be eaten.  He doesn't like his food touching each other on a plate and he doesn't like 'wet' food either. So if I'm giving him something new, I'll try and hit these targets and pick something similar to that which he already likes.

Anthony's language is at a more age appropriate level.  Food can be presented differently or look different but if we can say it's 'similar' to something he already likes then he'll give a try.  He understands it's not the same but is now willing to give it a go.  We moved Anthony from only eating Hot Cross Buns, to eating tea cakes and Rankin Loaf.  He really likes lasagna for dinner, so he tried spagbol with success.  Then he tried quorn mince and pasta and then macaroni cheese.

Each time he tried a new 'similar something' he'd screw up his face as he processed the flavours and textures.  Then after twisting his face, he'll say "I like it" or "I like it a bit".  Probably my favourite so far is "It's OK, I can eat it" - err thanks kid.  But now he'll eat just about any type of pasta and any sauce.

2. Think about textures

We'd already identified that David doesn't like things in a sauce.  This is not that uncommon with autistic kids.  People with autism can have highlighted sensory systems which can make, for example, some clothes feel itchy against their skin, or make the feeling of certain textures in their mouths uncomfortable or hard to process.

Anthony was fine with both dry things like toast and soft food like mince, but when it originally came to a burger he wasn't convinced about how having both textures together would feel in his mouth. For the first few times we opened the burger so he ate just the bun, and then ate the burger part.

Then we used the 'similar but not the same' strategy and got him and Jane to enjoy a chicken burgers each at home.   Anthony tried it because it was like the burger and had it with sweet potato chips, which are similar to the regular fries he has had with burgers before. Jane tried it because it was like the chicken strips she likes and also added in some carrot sticks and houmous.  Easy finger foods are still a favourite here!

3. Think about timing

It might seem like a good idea to force new foods down when kids are hungry but it's the worse possible plan in our house.

Firstly, Anthony doesn't like to be surprised by a new food option when he arrives at the dinner table - I've got to give him a bit of warning about it so he's ready to eat when he comes to the table.

Secondly, trying new foods for my kids requires effort for them.  No one is interested in exerting themselves when they are already hungry.  That's just likely to end in a meltdown.  I try to change things when they seem ready, not me.

David will often wait till the whole table has finished their meal, then when he feels the pressure is off, he might just eat or try something.  Perhaps because he feels more comfortable eating on his own. And that's OK.  I will let him sit by himself if he wants to.

We can sometimes use a 'first & then' strategy for timing with Jane.  "First eat another spoon of macaroni, then you can have some custard."  But I'll be honest, she's the only one this works with and I'd rather get her intrinsically motivated instead of  being forced to try.

4. Think about what they might be missing

David eats a very small variety of things but when I talked to his paediatrician and listed wheat he ate she said, "Well, at least that's something from most food groups."  And she was true.  The one thing he really misses out on is vegetables but he at least gobbles down plenty of fruit.

If you are concerned then you can try to add in some supplements or pick up the packs with added vitamins.   Jane likes the gummy vitamin chews.  Anthony and David won't touch them but they will have some vitamin drops.  Getting them into eating brands of food they like that have added vitamins is also possible.  We managed the switch to get best of both (white and brown) bread a while ago and now get the 50/50 Vitamin Boost one without complaint and clean plates.

5. Think about where

David eats at the kitchen table for meals.  He's OK with snacks in other places, but will take things to the table at dinner time.  Snacks are best left for David to try in his own time.  Eating with a book or an iPad is fine in our home if it helps him feel safe so he can eat or try something.

However, Anthony's key time for eating burgers was initially whilst watching Formula 1 on TV.  We joked around asking Anthony if he would like a, 'Lewis HamBurger,' or 'Nico Hulkenburger' which will only make sense if you know who the drivers are. He started to eat burgers,  so what if it's initially in front of the TV?

Who knows what's next?  Perhaps I'll get Anthony to try some of my soya milk in his cereal? Goodness knows what David would make of that.  One things for sure, with my kids, there is no point in forcing the issue, better to think of ways to help them at their own pace.

If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them.


  1. Great tips. Our Sasha sounds most like your David... can't be fooled or persuaded easily! #spectrumsunday

  2. I really like your approach here. We're still trying to get my 14 yo to eat new things but he will get there in his own time. I think that's the best advice here - try when they are ready, not when they are hungry or when it suits you.


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