Parenting a Picky Eater: Dietary Considerations for Autism
Parenting children with ASD can be challenging on many levels, and healthy eating is no exception
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that usually appears before a child turns three years old. It affects the brain, particularly in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children with ASD often prefer to play, demonstrate very repetitive behaviors, and restricted (sometimes unusual) interests. These types of behaviors can affect eating habits and food choices. As a result, parents with children diagnosed with ASD face challenges at mealtime. Issues, such as picky eaters. Some might dislike a few foods, and some might hate all foods placed before them.
These types of behaviors can lead to the following health concerns:
- Strongly Dislike Foods due to Sensitivities: Due to sensitivity with taste, smell, color, or texture, some children with autism may express a solid dislike for certain foods or limit their food selection. They may choose to avoid an entire food group, like fruits or veggies. It’s common for textures, such as soft or slippery foods, to become real crowd displeasures! Additionally, strong-flavored foods like onions or peppers may put a meal to a halt.
- Doesn’t get enough to eat: Focusing, even sitting still for a few minutes, comes as a challenge for children with autism. Mealtime is no exception!
- It’s hard to go #2: Whether it’s due to the child’s limited food choice, low physical activity level, or medication, children with ASD tend to express issues with constipation. Adding dietary fiber, such as veggies or bran cereals, may help remedy the situation. Additionally, regular activity and staying hydrated with plenty of liquids will help.
- Medication interactions: Some stimulating drugs used with treating symptoms of autism can suppress appetite. Lowering the amount of food a child eats may affect growth. Other drugs may increase hunger and affect the absorption of specific vitamins and minerals. Ask your physician about the possible side effects of stimulant drugs.
Parenting children with ASD can be challenging on many levels, and healthy eating is no exception. By creating a nutritious, yet balanced autism diet meal plan can help create a routine while assisting emotional management and process information. Consider this! Children with ASD may not be receiving all the nutrients they need because they often avoid certain foods or limit what they’ll eat. If you know a child like this, give these nutrition strategies a-go:
Consider what foods are good for autism
Some of the best foods for children with autism are ones that help with inflammation, like omega 3 fatty acids. Studies suggest low consumption of this nutrient has been linked to autism, dyslexia, depression, ADHD, dyspraxia, and anxiety. Give foods like fatty fish a try. Salmon and canned tuna in water can be mixed with crunchy veggies and turned into patties on the grill. At breakfast or lunch, give fortified eggs, soy milk, or yogurt a chance. Walnuts, Broccoli, and cauliflower are also a good source and can be eaten raw tossed up in a little walnut or flaxseed oil and their favorite special spice mix.
Consider sustainably raised animal proteins to enrich the child’s meal plan. Local Farm-raised beef or chicken are less likely to contain additives, like hormones and antibiotics. Behavior-wise, this can make a huge impact for children with food sensitivities and health conditions, like autism.
Farmer’s Market Prepares a Picky Eater
Food may taste, smell, look or feel undesirable to children with ASD, which poses a big problem for parents. A child’s sensitivity to foods limits their willingness to try new foods, especially if the texture is slippery or soft. Some children may even avoid entire food groups!
Speaking to the child outside the kitchen is one of the easiest ways to tackle these situations. Take a field trip to the Farmers Market and stop by the produce stand. Be sure to prepare the picky eater before heading out the door on your exploration. Once the food is selected, hop on the computer and do a bit of research together and prepare the meal as an activity. After preparing the meal or snack, ask the child to try it! If they don’t like it, don’t sweat it! By creating a low-pressure, positive atmosphere, will help familiarize new foods while creating flexibility in what they’ll eat.
Pro-tip: If you’re picking up food, say strawberries from the Farmer’s Market, consider striking up a conversation with your child and the vendor. The child may find interest in learning about the strawberry (or other food).
Between timers beeping loudly and bright lights, the kitchen is a busy, sometimes overstimulating place to be for a child, especially those with sensory issues. All of these stimulates, even the way a dishtowel is hanging, are potential stressors making mealtime hard. Making mealtime predictable by sticking to a routine can help. One of the simplest ways to reduce stress while cooking up a meal is to do so at the same time each day. Also, consider making accommodations, like dimming the lights for bright sensitivity making mealtime more enjoyable for the entire family.
A creative way to involve the child is allowing freedom to choose a favorite seat, utensil, or food they enjoy each time they sit to eat. Make an effort to include a variety of colors on the plate and let the child choose their fruit or vegetable color. Remember to limit snacks before mealtimes. A child going to a table a little hungry will encourage a child to eat what is offered at dinner. Provide small bite-size portions and stick to a routine.
Seek Guidance for Special Diets
Change in diet can improve symptoms of autism. In fact, a quick google search of “what foods should be avoided with autism” brings up several recommendations for choosing a diet free of gluten and casein. Gluten is a type of protein, often in barley, rye, and wheat. Casein is a protein found in milk products, like low-fat or whole milk. Often known as GF/CF diet, eliminating these two items may help change the behaviors or symptoms of autism. Some reviews claim improvements in learning, social skills, and behavior.
Reminder! Restrictive diets require close attention and careful planning to ensure your child’s nutritional and health goals are achieved. To avoid any side effects and potential shortfalls, be sure to reach out to a reputable registered dietitian nutritionist before making changes to a child’s meal plan.
Working With a Specialist in Williamson County
Picky eaters? We know one; we love one. Many children, with or without autism, can be particular about the foods they eat. By working with a pediatric nutritionist in Williamson County, you’ll be able to identify nutritional risks based on how the child eats. He or she will answer questions about the effectiveness, safety of nutrition therapies and offer advice on supplementation. Call someone today! Get your picky eater back on track to living a healthy life.
Williamson County Resources for autism:
- Children’s Autism Center (Round Rock)
- First Leap (Georgetown)
- Autism Spectrum Therapy (Leander)
- ABA Connect (Cedar Park)
- One of the Kids (Cedar Park)