I have always been a picky eater. Since I was a toddler I have had trouble with many foods. I have gotten better within the last year but I still need to work at it. Textures of foods as well as taste affect my eating. I don’t like many foods that people eat all of the time such as most meats and fish. Also, I eat some foods in different forms but not others. For instance, I will eat tomatoes, but I won’t eat ketchup or marinara sauce. This makes grocery shopping and going out for dinner challenging for my parents. Below I have some advice that I have found helpful for dealing with picky eaters who are on the spectrum.
1. Realize that textures are a huge issue: I (along with many others with Autism) am very sensitive to textures. Even though a food might taste the same in different forms, it doesn’t mean that your child will eat it in all forms. When I didn’t like a texture, my parents simply offered the food in a different form. For example, I don’t like cooked carrots but I like raw carrots. So, with dinner, when my parents had cooked, I had raw. I also favor consistency in foods. I like regular yogurt because the texture is consistent and I don’t like chunky yogurt because the textures are different. Easy changes like this can really help with your picky eater.
2. Stay calm at the dinner table: In the past my parents have became upset because of my pickiness, which led to arguments at the dinner table. THIS DOESN’T HELP! Fighting with your child will make him/her not want to eat that particular food even more. Additionally fighting can cause anxiety, which no one wants. I always like it when my parents can stay calm even when they’re upset that I’m not eating something. When there isn’t any fighting, I often feel more inclined to try something different. This change doesn’t only help to create a peaceful atmosphere, but it also creates a better environment to try something new.
3. Make it fun: For little kids, I suggest going “grocery shopping” in the house for the meal. Your children can pick out certain foods. By letting your child do this, he/she will get to see, smell, and touch the food which gets him/her used to it. I remember as a little kid always liking to do this. For older kids, my advice is to let them help make it. I always am able to try something new if I make it. Not only can your child have fun and try something new, but even discover a possible interest in cooking like I did! This quick, fun idea is a blank slate so you can be creative with it.
4. Try foods over and over again: My parents always made me try foods multiple times. They tell me that it takes at least fifteen times to get used to a certain food. If it wasn’t my first time trying the food, they would put a little bit on my plate and only require me to take one bite. My advice to parents is to not make your children eat all of their food since that causes conflict. My parents told me that when I was younger, I used to go to speech as well as occupational therapy to work on desensitizing my mouth so that I would have an easier time with textures. Remember to have your children eat the foods on a regular basis. There have been multiple times when I like a food, then don’t have it for a month or two, and then not like it anymore.
5. Implement a reward system: When I was younger, my parents used to reward me for trying new foods. Every time that I tried something new, I would be rewarded by something that I was motivated to earn. If the item that motivates your child is a big item, make a deal saying that if your child eats whatever amount of new foods, you will get that for them. If the item is small, then you can get them it each time. Just remember to not spoil them!
6. Teach social faking: When your child goes out to a restaurant, sometimes there won’t be anything for them to eat. That’s where social faking comes in. By teaching your child to pretend to like the food, you can decrease the chance of causing a scene. A few months ago my dad and I went to a sushi restaurant with two of my temple family friends. IT WAS HORRIBLE. But, I social faked it (to my friends who thought I loved it, sorry… at least you can testify to the point that I can social fake). To teach social faking, I recommend that you look up some lessons online from Michelle Garcia Winner. Social faking is a great tool that I have learned that I use all of the time.
When I was a toddler to about thirteen or fourteen years old, I could be called one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Using the tips above, my parents worked with me to expand my horizons. I’m still picky, but I have certainly improved over the past year or two.