Children on the spectrum are blessed with acute senses to explore the world with. Understandably, all that sensory information that can be overwhelming sometimes, especially when something is unexpected. Unexpected disruptions to the routine can be disarming and uncomfortable, particularly at the table.
My little brother is a professional taste tester in-the-making – he can instantly tell if the grocery store ran out of his JIF peanut butter and I had to reluctantly resort to using Peter Pan for his favorite meal, The PB&J. He always catches it and responds with his hands on his hips and a knowing, skeptical eye.
“It tastes funny,” he prods.
His taste buds are amazing! But they also make introducing healthy foods outside of the routine tricky.
So, how do you introduce new foods in a way that won’t be met with a crinkled nose?
The ticket is to combine the familiar with the novel.
Combining new and familiar makes trying something new more approachable (I think this is true for anyone trying something for the first time!).
While some foods can hide in regular meals without being detected, I have found that formally introducing a food creates an opportunity for the child to communicate and feel accomplished in having overcome a challenging situation.
I will never forget when my brother gasped, “I can’t believe I actually like grapes!” after he insisted he did not like them, then took a bite of one.
It was amazing to share that moment of glowing triumph with him.
Some things to try:
If your child is normally eats a favorite food out of a special container, or has a favorite plate or cup, place the new food in that container
If your child has a special blanket (maybe a comforting weighted blanket), drape it over them before you introduce the new food
Introduce the new food alongside a favorite food, but not touching it
And then you can always try dipping new foods in a beloved condiment (Hello ketchup-covered carrots?).
Anything that combines the old with the new will make the new seem more approachable!
What has made branching out at mealtimes easier for your child?
Laura Browne spent time working as a marketing intern for Birdhouse for Autism. Having a younger brother on the Autism spectrum has inspired her lifelong advocacy for all individuals with disabilities.
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