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Picky Eaters: How to Expand and Diversify their Diets!


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I’ve been watching in awe as my cousin raises her adorable son who has autism.  My aunt recommended I talk to her about dealing with food behavior and kids who have autism. Instead, I thought it would be better for Angela to write the post for me!  And, don’t forget we’ve posted our meal ideas for this week, on the meal plan page. Here is Angela’s post:

I am mom of a 3 year old with autism. I am sure all mom’s of toddlers can relate, that toddlers are very picky eaters. Adding on the Autism tends to intensify all normal toddler issues including those relating to food. Autism moms often deal with rigid behaviors, inflexible opinions on textures/colors/ temperatures of food, poor communication, tantrums… and as a result, many children with Autism have a very limited diet.

My son, Colton, was one of those extremely picky eaters, and at one point last year he was only eating meatballs (cut in the same way) and toast for dinner. That’s it! I was DETERMINED to expand his diet and get him eating healthy. 

Here is the basic plan my son’s psychologist and I came up with to help improve his eating. 

  1. Start small (start where they can be successful): If your child will only eat meatballs and toast, then start with a meal of just meatballs and toast.
  2. Build on your success by gradually expanding: Take that meal of meatballs and toast, and then in the subsequent days, switch it up slightly — using parmesan toast instead, next changing the sauce on the meatballs, next adding spaghetti, next changing the pasta…etc.
  3. Add in easy new foods: I like to give Colton 3 things I know he’ll eat, and then have something new (but that he’d probably like) on his plate. I just ask him to try a bite or two…and that’s it. The next night, you can have him try MORE bites of that new food…always slowly building.
  4. Be patient and follow though!!!: This is super important. This change doesn’t happen overnight. We had two straight weeks of major tantrums (this is typical), then he got it that we weren’t going to budge…and hasn’t had an issue since. If you say “You need two bites”…make sure they eventually eat those two bites.
  5. POSITIVELY reinforce: This is huge. Colton always has something he is “working for” during dinner. He earns his tokens on a token board for good eating/ taking so many bites. Once he’s earned his tokens during the meal, he gets his reward (dessert/book/activity). Everything I do with Colton is positive, I never yell or lose my temper. Give lots of praise and positive attention for good eating, and not much attention or neutral attention for the negative eating or tantrums. 

And where are we now? Colton is an excellent eater, and just as importantly, dinnertime is now something we actually enjoy together as a family. Colton will now will try anything I have on his plate, eats tons of fruits and vegetables, and eats without tantrums. In fact, his favorite thing to eat is spinach dipped in dressing! 

Good luck with your picky eaters! Remember, behavior and eating habits can be changed. It just takes some planning, patience and follow through :) 

You can visit my blog here http://familyofroses.blogspot.com/


If you have a personal “Picky Eater success” story, we’d love to share it with other parents struggling! Contact us to share it!


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Heather

Thank you so much I am stuggling with my two year old and it is so great to hear wonderful ideas, I think you plan is doable and not crazy stringent or over the top. I will have to try this and will post any improvements.

Jill Farrell

As Colton’s grandmother, I can witness that the difference is profound! It’s important to know that he is never coerced or punished if he does not eat the required bites. He simply does not get the “reward” he was working for. My daughter used to have to supervise each bite, but he is now much more independent at meal time.

I am also the mother of picky spectrum kids. I am thankful to not be alone in being determined to help them expand their diet. I refuse to allow them to be handicapped by their food issues. My oldest is a lot more severe than the others, and a new food is actually traumatic for him. He’s 8 now, and still panics at new foods…but, he is LIGHTYEARS from where we began.

Yania

I’m struggling with the same thing, my 4 years old son, who has been diagnose with PDD, would only eat cream of wheat, toast and crackers, and he would not eat at all in school. I’m worry because he leave to school at 8 am and come back at 4 pm. He won’t eat the food I pack him either. Don’t know what else to do :-(

Using tokens is a great idea! I don’t have kids yet but I see so many picky eaters out there, it makes me nervous for when I have kids. Thanks for the advice.

Cherri Farrell

What a wonderful effort you are making and then helping others with similar difficulties. It is so important the family isn’t isolated and that these difficulties are openly shared and respected. It is so right to communicate. Fantastic, just fantastic.
Aunt Cherri

Christian Rene Friborg

Me and my wife are struggling from our 5 year-old boy. I know how you feel and as a parent I want my child to be healthy as possible despite his autism. Thank you very much for this post.

Christian Rene Friborg

Me and my wife are struggling from our 5 year-old boy. I know how you feel and as a parent I want my child to be healthy as possible despite his autism. Thank you very much for this post.

Although our daughter does not have autism..she struggles a lot with food. She started out eating everything and slowly was down to baby oatmeal in the morning and crackers the rest of the day. Nutrition is a passion of mine so watching my 2 year old eat this way was devastating. Thanks to your words my husband and I followed your advice. We are taking it super slow but she is now accepting changes in flavor in her oatmeal (yay for fruits and veggies!) and she is even eating a peanut butter sandwich and I’m currently watching her eat French toast. I realize this is long but I can’t thank you enough for this post! We were in tears as we watched our daughter eat a sandwich…your words were such a blessing to us!

registered user

Thank you for sharing your story!! It makes us so happy to know that parents like you are care so much about your child’s health and eating behavior! Good luck in your journey and keep us updated~

Sue

My 4 year old son will only eat goldfish and crackers now. He has phased out any other foods that he used to eat and we have been working for months to get him introduced to those foods but with no success :(

Hi Sue,
I know this is frustrating. But the best advice we have is to be patient. Kids will only eat what is available. If you do not have any crackers, then they can’t eat them. I know this sounds harsh, however, in the long run, it will be a great solution. My son used to eat hot dogs, until the day I stopped buying them. He was about 4 also. For an entire year, he begged me every day for a hot dog! I thought he would never stop asking! But eventually, he did- although it took an entire year! This isn’t the solution for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a try!

Good luck to you!
Amy

jill

Sue, that is so frustrating. I had a child who only ate noodles. (Now he’s an adult who’ll eat anything.) I have a couple of ideas. Does he drink milk or juice? You could try introducing new flavors by making smoothies, just adding a new ingredient a little at a time. You can also try having him dip his crackers in something, like peanut butter and honey. My other idea is to have some incentive for eating something other than the crackers. Start with rewards for trying, say, a piece of fruit or cheese Maybe it’s a toy or a treat or a privilege. He doesn’t get it if he doesn’t eat it. Eventually the rewards can get simpler, and you’ll be able to raise the expectations and lower the frequency of the rewards. It takes a lot of time. Also, let him get hungry before a meal, instead of snacking beforehand.

Jenny

I’m wondering what would happen if in order to get a goldfish, he had to eat so many bites of something, and gradually increase the number of bites to get a goldfish?

Sue

Thank you so much for your suggestions!! He will not drink milk but does drink apple juice. We have tried switching it up a bit but if he notices even a slight difference, he puts the cup down and won’t touch it. We did however get him to finally drink out of a different cup which was another issue we were having so this was a huge step! On a positive note, he ate some cheeseburger last night which was one of the foods he had phased out!! Instead of giving him crackers when he asked for them, we waited a bit until we knew he was hungry! Baby steps :)

Nicole Wiley

My daughter will be 3 years old in July.The only foods she will eat are chicken nuggets, french fries, dry cereal, yougurt, and crackers. I’ve tried adding 1 new food to the plate that has 2 items on it that she eats. She will eat all but the new food. I’ve tried not giving her anything to drink or snack on in between meals and she still won’t eat anything new. I took her to a food clinic and the dietician says its behavior. I know that some parents can be in denial when it comes to their kids, but i don’t believe that its 100% behavioral. In her defense at the time of her appointment it was her nap time so she was EXTREMELY tired. They wanted to observe her eating. She pushed the plate away and refused to eat any of it. Based on that it was said behavior is why she wont try new things. On her plate were both foods she liked and new foods. It took her a long while to transition to table food. those items are the only things i could ever get her to eat. She won’t eat any fruits, veggies, rice, pasta, ice cream, jello, cookies, cakes, etc. The items i listed above are litterally all she will eat. Any suggestions?

Lauren Kalik

I have the same problem Nicole. My 4 year old son eats the same foods you describe and that is it. I have tried for years with no success to get him to widen his horizons. My family and I are very healthy and eats lots of fresh produce so for my son to be struggling so much with food really makes me sad. If I try to give him two bites of a new food that I know he would love if he would just try it he has a tantrum and ends up going to bed hungry. I am going to try this incentive system mentioned above and see if that helps. I know hard this is. I hope you are starting to have some success. If this doesn’t work I don’t know what I am going to do.

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Jodi Reed

Nicole, my son is the same way. He eats/doesn’t eat those same things. It’s so frustrating. I’m looking for suggestions too.

Dawn Marie

Thank you so much for this. My 5 (almost 6) year old HFA (high functioning autistic) son has become so much more picky now that he entered kindergarten. The foods he used to eat are now being pushed away. He is even taking the crust off his bread which he has never done before. His lunches have to be the exact same each and every day, though he did finally let me switch between a few different kinds of chips (sweet potato, goldfish, etc). I will have to try this method.

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