Supporting Your ASD Child’s Nutrition

Proven Strategies That According to ASD Nutritionists Work

Picky eating is one of the most common problems in ASD families. Sensory issues, physiological barriers, and oral-motor dysfunctions can be the causes that combined lead to more than 87% of autistic children to food selectivity.

What Is Food Selectivity? 

Food selectivity goes far beyond being a picky eater or disliking some meals. 
When a child is a selective eater, he or she will eat only certain foods or strictly avoid some foods and will not vary his/her diet without extraordinary intervention. It can get to the point that the child makes himself/herself sick.

How Do I Know if My Child Has Food Selectivity?

According to ASD Nutritionist Jenny Friedman, there is an easy way to determine if an autistic child is just a picky eater or has a deeper condition. 

“Children who eat under 20 foods, can’t tolerate introductions to new foods, drop once preferred foods without ever reintroducing them, and neglect entire food groups or food types are actually suffering from a food selectivity condition,” Friedman claims.

How Can I Help My Child With Food Selectivity To Eat Different Food Groups?

You have probably heard the typical advice of “She will eat when she is hungry” or “He wont starve himself” or even “Most children are like that”. However, when it comes to food selectivity none of these rules apply because you are dealing with a different condition that involves sensory issues, and goes far beyond preferring some food above others. Although is not an easy road, it is actually possible to help ASD children eat better.

The following are 3 scientifically proven strategies to expand your child’s diet:

1.- Food Chaining: Food chaining is a method that incorporates sensory integration and behavioral modification. This method involves focusing on meals that have a similar texture and flavor but with a slight modification. The food chaining technique can be used as long as wanted, depending on the goal. For example: Your child eats only chicken nuggets and your goal is to get him to eat lean fish, the chain will start with your regular chicken nuggets, then next day will change to chicken nuggets with a different breading, then to whole-wheat breading, then to different nugget shapes, until it gets to the point of being just fish with his/her favorite sauce. 
Note: This process takes time and patience because the goal is to make almost impercetible changes one at a time. 

The following image will help you picture it better:

2.- Mealtime Management: Since autistic children thrive on routines, establishing them around mealtimes is highly beneficial. Children with autism expect clear rules about everything so trying these strategies will help him/her have a clearer picture of their daily routine:

  • Schedule his/her breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day at the same time. 
  • Schedule 3 meals and 1 snack daily.
  • Limit caloric beverages between meals (juice, milk, soda).
  • Limit mealtimes to no longer than 30 minutes, if he/she does not finish remove the plate from the table. 
  • Expose your child to a non-preferred food daily. For example: If he/she likes meatballs include different veggies in them.
  • Create a fun culture around food. Take him/her grocery shopping, visit a farm, get your child to help you prepare meals.
  • Be a role model. Remember, children imitate our conducts.
  • Important: Do not beg, bribe, or force eating. This reinforces the mindset that food is a punishment. Instead, be patient and make out of mealtime a feast.
3.- Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement, is exactly what it sounds like. Every time your child tries a new food or eats his/her complete meal you give positive feedback. Phrases like “You did incredible”, “Thank you for eating all your veggies”, or “You are awesome” can be used to motivate you, child. Also, you can be more specific and mention “Thank you for trying kale salad” or “You did a great job eating all your fish” to point out and recognize specific efforts. Additionally, you can complement positive reinforcement with simple things like a sticker, or a progress chart with stickers. 

Keep in mind that food should not be a moment of suffering but a celebration. Building a positive atmosphere around food and including your child in related activities will help him/her feel more comfortable and happy around meal preparations and mealtime. Remember, life should be a celebration, and every meal a feast itself. Make sure to honor every accomplishment of your child and yours, because you deserve it!

At WSCC, we offer support for autistic families and their children with Stem Cell Therapy treatments that can transform autistic conditions by healing the gut, decreasing inflammation and improving brain function. We also created an autistic community on Facebook that is destined to offer support and companionship for ASD parents and their families on their journey.
Remember, you are not alone!