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10 Strategies to Make Mealtimes Easier for Kids With Autism

It can be a struggle to get your child to eat the foods you’re offering and even more challenging to get them to try new things.

Mealtime can be one of the most frustrating times for parents with kids who have autism. It can be a struggle to get your child to eat the foods you’re offering and even more challenging to get them to try new things. But there are ways you can make mealtimes more accessible and more enjoyable for everyone involved. Here are ten strategies that may help! 

  1. Establish a Regular Routine: Creating a consistent routine can be extremely helpful in calming anxiety and making mealtimes easier for kids with autism. This routine should include activities before and after meals, such as washing hands, setting the table, or helping clean up afterward. Having the same place at the table, dishes, and food every day will make your child feel safe and secure. 
  2. Schedule Meals Ahead of Time: It’s important to let your child know when mealtime is coming up, so they don’t become overwhelmed or anxious about it. You could use an hourly schedule with pictures or symbols representing breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc., so your child knows when it’s time to eat. You could also set an alarm on your phone or watch that goes off when it’s time for a meal. An alarm will make it easier for your child to recognize when it’s time to eat without relying on verbal cues from you every time. 
  3. Get Everyone Involved: Encourage your child to participate in meal planning. If they are personally invested in what will be served, they are more likely to eat it. If you want them to try something new, consider letting them help you with cooking the meal too! Experiencing the process of preparing the food is a great way to let your child slowly acclimate to the idea of eating the new item.
  4. Serve Smaller Portions: Serving smaller portions of food allows you to give a variety without overwhelming your child with too much food at once. Start by giving smaller pieces of the foods they like and add one new food per week. This will help them gradually get used to trying new things without feeling overwhelmed by unfamiliar flavors or textures all at once. 
  5. Ditch Technology: Meal time should be focused on connecting with your family, so avoid phones and other technology devices during meals (unless they are being used as part of the routine!). 
  6. Allow More Time To Eat: Kids with autism often need more time than other children to finish their meals since sensory processing issues can make mealtime difficult. If possible, allow extra time between courses (if serving multiple courses) so that your child isn’t rushed through their meal too quickly but still has some structure during mealtimes. Allowing more time gives them space without pressure or rush, which makes eating a more enjoyable experience overall.  
  7. Make it Social: Make mealtimes an opportunity for connection rather than just another chore to get through. Invite your child to discuss one of their favorite topics with the family. 
  8. Offer Choice: Providing choices gives kids a feeling of control and helps them build their decision-making skills. When offering choices, try to keep it simple by only giving two options – too many choices can be overwhelming! 
  9. Provide Visual Cues: For some kids on the spectrum, visual cues are beneficial in understanding expectations and reducing anxiety around mealtime – consider setting up a visual timetable or providing pictures of food items, so they know what’s coming next! 
  10. Stay Positive: Above all else, remember that positive reinforcement is critical for encouraging healthy eating habits. Praise even small successes like trying something new, finishing all of their food, or sitting patiently at the table! 

Mealtime doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for parents or children with autism! By implementing these strategies, like establishing a routine and scheduling meals ahead of time, you’ll make mealtimes more accessible for everyone involved—and maybe even enjoy them! Remember that progress takes time; don’t expect instant results. Keep introducing different foods and flavors little by little until you find what works best for you and your family! Good luck!

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