Mealtime tips for children with autism

By Maddie Todd

Team Leader

Mealtimes can be challenging for parents of children with autism. The following are my top tips for those parents who must pick their battles when it comes to mealtimes.

Offer at least one preferred food at every meal and snack time.

Children with autism need to feel safe and confident that there is something that they can eat at mealtimes. Sometimes, when there is not a preferred food or food that matches a child’s skill level or sensory preferences, they will often refuse to eat at all.

Do not give up on offering a range of foods at mealtimes!

Once you find yourself catering to your child’s specific food preferences, you might find that you get to the point where you cannot offer any other foods without a meltdown. Sometimes new foods need to be offered in a very gradual way to help your child slowly build up their tolerance. A great way to offer exposure to a wide range of foods is through grocery shopping with your child or involve them in meal preparation.

Book an appointment with an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) to see if there are any nutritional gaps in your child’s diet. This gap may be impacting the range of foods they’re eating, their food/mealtime behaviours, and growth and development. At Therapy Focus, our Dietitians help manage and prevent poor nutrition in children and adults with disability by supporting their dietary needs.

Build structure into every mealtime.

Building routines can help support children with autism, as they often prefer to know what is expected of them and what is coming next. Children with Autism can often experience difficulty with transitioning from one task to another. This can often result in meltdowns and refusal behaviour when a child is expected to suddenly transition from an activity they enjoy doing, to the mealtime. Having structured mealtime routines allow the children to build expectation around the mealtime and what is required, making transitioning easier.

Seek support as picky eating can be tricky to manage.

Get a thorough assessment of your child’s eating and drinking skills. Often picky eating is more than the usual ‘fussy eating’ phase that many children experience as part of typical development. An assessment could include chewing and swallowing skills, self-feeding skills, seating and positioning, and continence. All of these things can have a significant effect on a child’s diet and mealtimes. Our mealtime management service provides a multidisciplinary approach to our customers by considering all these factors.

two therapists show food to boy. They are sitting at a metal picnic table.

Pictured: Two Therapy Focus therapists engage with a primary school student.

Making mealtimes manageable

If you would like more information about our dietetics service or our mealtime management service please contact us today.