Some people call it “picky eating.” Others call it “selective eating” and struggling with “food aversions.” Any way you slice it, lots of kids go through it. It’s an especially significant challenge for children with sensory processing issues, as is the case for many on the autism spectrum. Our Akron ABA therapy team (and our occupational therapy team, as well) can offer insight into how to help your child gradually overcome some of their food aversions and incorporate a more varied, healthier diet.
Akron ABA Therapy Tips to Tackle Picky Eating
Selective eating can take a lot of different forms. Every child is going to be different, so it’s best to consult with your child’s ABA therapy and/or occupational therapy team before initiating any of these strategies, particularly for a child on the autism spectrum.
That said, here are a few ways we might advise introducing new foods and/or increasing the variety of foods your child eats at home.
- Pair non-preferred foods with preferred foods. Try putting the food they won’t eat on the same plate with a food they love. If they’re having a hard time even tolerating that, put a “no thank you” plate or bowl next to their eating plate. This way, they still have the opportunity to see, smell, and touch the food, which is really the first step toward getting it anywhere near their mouth. But continue to encourage them to try it. Let them see you eating – and really enjoying – it.
- Change up food consistency. If your child consumes lots of liquids but struggles with solids (due to sensory issues and not oral motor function, which is a whole separate issue that should be addressed with feeding/swallowing therapy), try blending some non-preferred foods into liquids. Or if your child loves popsicles, try making them out of certain fruits you would like to see your child eating more of. Offer thin apple slices instead of apple sauce or whole apples. If your child tolerates the different texture, you can slowly experiment with others.
- Alter the size of the food. Sometimes big pieces can seem visually overwhelming as much as the taste or texture of the food itself. Maybe your child isn’t going to gobble up a huge piece of broccoli, but they might bird-peck at some bite-sized pieces. You can always slowly increase the size as your child eats more of it. (If your child is very picky about the size/shape of the foods they eat, try starting by slowly mixing it up with their preferred foods; get them used to tolerating changes on their plate.)
- Mix foods together. If your child is super into applesauce but you’d like them to eat yogurt, try mixing the tiniest bit of yogurt into the applesauce. See how it goes. If your child loves pizza but loathes vegetables of any kind, try mixing the tiniest bit of cooked, blended vegetables into the pizza sauce. If they tolerate it, you can slowly (very slowly) change the ratio.
- Dish up positive reinforcement. Set up a preferred food or positive activity ahead of time. Then encourage your child to take a tiny bite of the non-preferred food. Don’t make it a battle, but if they do it, immediately give them their preferred food/positive activity and heap on a big helping of praise.
- Model. Don’t underestimate the power of modeling good eating habits. Have the foods you’re hoping your child will eat in the house and regularly available to all family members. Make sure your child sees you and others in the home modeling healthy eating behavior.
- Take it slowly. Lots of kids take time to get used to certain foods. Consider there were lots of things you couldn’t stomach when you were a kid that you may love now. (And maybe a few that still make you cringe.) Kids on the spectrum and other picky eaters need more time than most to incorporate different foods into their diet. Often, taking a bite is too much to ask to start. Begin by having them play with it, tolerate it on their plate, smell it, lick it. With no pressure and lots of positive reinforcement, you can slowly encourage them to try new foods one morsel at a time.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
More Blog Entries:
Sensory Meltdown vs. Tantrum: What’s the Difference? Akron OT Explains, Jan. 20, 2021, Akron ABA Therapy Blog