Having a child with special needs can make daily battles out of necessary activities. Is your dinner table a battleground, do you struggle to feed your special needs child? I am not a doctor or a nutritionist but I can show you what worked for my family. We continue to encourage our son to try new foods with some success with these simple family rules.
- Do not force your child to eat. This is an important rule. Do not make them eat every piece of food on the plate or force him to try some new food. You can certainly make him sit at the table while everyone else finishes their food. Allowing him control of what he eats will build trust. Trust is essential in trying new foods.
- Let your child contribute to the meal. At the grocery store let him pick out which cucumber or apples. Have him place the food in the bag, in the cart, on the belt. When you bring the groceries in have him help put them away.
- Teach your child about what he is eating. This is a grape, this is what it tastes like. This is how chicken nuggets are made. The grocery store is a fantastic tool for teaching your children. Technology can help too IAUTISM has a fantastic line of free apps and some paid for apps to introduce new concepts to your child.
- Invite him into the kitchen. Give him an age/ability appropriate task to help put the meal together. Take this time to reinforce safety and introduce new concepts like hot, steam, cold, freezing. Show him each stage of the food you are cooking.
- Make dinner accessible for everyone in your family by laying everything out on the table. Even if your picky eater won’t eat it, seeing the items on the table, where everyone else is eating them will build trust.
- If your child likes toppings let him control how much of each topping goes on his meal. Cheese can introduce a lot of new foods for you.
- Little taste big reward. Encourage your child to try new foods by allowing him to spit it out, wipe his mouth, or eat something you know he likes after. This builds trust and acceptance and allows him to maintain control.
- Bribery is okay. Those Popsicles with the cool superhero cover or the fun colors are only 15 calories and can save you from a dinner time fight. It’s okay to give him a Popsicle or cookie for finishing his food or trying something new.
The key to success is allowing your child to have choice, educating them to inform that choice, and making sure each meal is accessible to every member of your family. What works for your family, share any tips that make dinner time easier.