I have a picky eater. What should I do?

Cheralee - posted on 03/10/2011 ( 20 moms have responded )

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My four year old Daughter has Autism and she is a picky eater. I was told that children with Autism some times find that their sences are too strong and so they don't like much stimulation (sounds, lights or colours, and sometime tastes).

I was told that it is normal for Children with Autism to love McDonalds Chicken Nuggets because they are bland/ plain. Does anyone have ideas for things I can make for my daughter to try?

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Stefanie - posted on 03/20/2011

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i have always been a picky eater i have autism an si iusse but my choices never invld junk food mc dolnds was a treat not something iu could deamd .if a child can eat hambuger or nuggets they can try other foods i had a hard time with those .i eat mostly pasta carbs veggi some fish daiury prety much a veggterine.as long as you can get her try diff healthy foods .an not fall into the junk food trap some parents do it will help her .becuse really what kid wouldsnt want to live off of mycky ds nuggets an fries an cxhips.what my mom rule was an i doi eat more thing then use to was i had to try it before saying no .becuse im like if it looks funny smells funny i ulsy doint want it ..when iu was younger she wiould only make mer something diff for dinner if it was something she new i really didnt like or couldnt eat but it wasnt every day .hope this helps

Diane - posted on 03/15/2011

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My son used to eat a wide variety of food as a toddler, but slowly narrowed his food down to about 6-7 foods. He became so picky by age 2 1/2 that all he would eat was several small packages of string cheese per day, Cheerios, Ritz crackers, macaroni & cheese, McD's french fries, gold fish crackers, and 1/2 gallon of milk daily. We heard from parents with children with autism that removing dairy and wheat (gluten) can help tremendously, especially if the child has a self-limited diet to foods with gluten and/or casein (dairy). So we took about 5-6 weeks to slowly and gradually replace the old foods with gluten free/dairy-free alternatives. By the end of six weeks, everything he ate was GF/CF. I learned how to make huge batches of GF/CF chicken nuggets, convinced the local MacD's manager to give me a supply of nugget boxes, and would literally wave goodbye to our 3-yr-old son, go out the door, sneak back in the garage and put his nuggets I had made in McD's boxes, and go back in the house with his Mc Donald's meal (or so he thought). Sounds silly, but he had no concept of time. He would only eat his nuggets from McD's, and although mine looked and tasted nothing like McD's nuggets (they are much better, actually), they were a very good recipe made in a fryer dedicated to gluten-free cooking, and all he cared about was the McD's logo to confirm they were his favorite. Eventually I eliminated the boxes entirely as he loved his chicken nuggets. As gluten left his body, he slowly started to accept other foods, such as GF/CF/Nitrate free hotdogs, hamburger patties, GF/CF cereals, muffins (which were awesome because they provided a way to sneak in shredded fruits and veggies, protein powders, and some powdered supplements that can be baked into food. Within a couple of years, my son's diet expanded and he was willing to eat a wide variety of food (but still gluten and dairy free). We implemented a new foods program in his ABA therapy where we targeted several kid-friendly foods we knew he would love if he would try them, and rewarded him for allowing it to stay on his plate, touching/smelling it, and made a big deal if he would actually take a bite. He had several new foods within a week, because each new food became an instant favorite since we only targeted foods we knew he would love if he would only try them.



He is now in middle school, and still on the diet. I make all of his lunches and he does not eat anything from the cafeteria. It has been completely worth it though, as he is now very high functioning, and most people would not be able to point out the special needs child with an IEP in his classroom. When there is a birthday at school, or a Pizza party or donuts, the school will alert me and I will send a suitable replacement that he can eat. The teachers have a supply of treats he can have for emergencies, and the diet has never been an issue at school. We had it written into his IEP so that the school would follow it and not feed him food he is not to have. Once he understood the he is "allergic" to gluten and dairy, he would refuse any food offered if it didn't come from home. For anyone interested in learning more about the GF/CF diet, there is much info on the TACA website at www.tacanow.org



diane in TN

Katherine - posted on 03/14/2011

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I don't know if this will help with Autistic children, but I found it really interesting.
Parents of toddlers, here’s a tip: Next time you’re at your local library, pick up some board books with pictures of fruits and vegetables to read to your tot. A new study suggests that babies and toddlers who look at pictures of unfamiliar foods first were more likely to eat them at mealtime.


The study, out of Reading University, focused on those notoriously picky eaters: One-year-olds. Researchers sent parents home with picture books that contained pictures of different types of fruits and vegetables. After two weeks, the toddlers were offered a plate of fruit and a plate of vegetables, both with familiar and unfamiliar foods on them. They found that kids were more likely to try an unfamiliar food if it had been in their picture book, and that they were less likely to chose unfamiliar foods that had not been pictured.

Study leader Dr. Carmel Houston-Price said the finding may lead to techniques that help parents of particularly picky eaters. “We think that showing children pictures of healthy foods might work to increase their willingness to taste them,” she told the Telegraph. “In the future we will examine whether picture books might be used to help parents introduce new foods at home, and whether parents whose children are fussy eaters might particularly benefit from this strategy.”

Can’t hurt, right? And looking at books together is a great bonding experience. But it’s also important to remember that it’s perfectly normal for one-year-olds to be discerning about their food experiences. Just because they won’t eat your favorite curry today doesn’t mean they won’t be begging for it a few years from now. Visit Dr. Sears for more tips on coping with a picky eater.

Photo: roxeteer, Flickr

Lokeri - posted on 03/13/2011

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Boy, does that sound familiar! I have a 6 yr.old Aspie & he is extremely picky. My biggest advice to you is to be very careful of the trap you may get yourself into..... you worry so much that they are not eating enough that you look for anything they will eat and you let them have it. Well, that's what I did, anyway. So now my son is a carbohydrate junkie. He like crunchy things - and would literally live on gold fish crackers if I let him.
Do you know if her sensativity is to texture or taste or if it's smell? Sometimes that affects what they will eat as well - if it "smells funny" to them.
Try several different things to see if you can figure out what she prefers.... smooth or crunchy or whatever - and try to find the healthiest of those things. They all become such ceatures of habit that once the bad eating habits begin, it is torturesome to try to break them. It is difficult, but get her on a good multivitamin that contains minerals too and be selective about what you try - these kids are no different than we are in that they want what appeals to them most - and it is usually the worst thing for them.
Something you may try - home made smoothies. You can buy fruit smoothie mix in the freezer section that you add juice to..... they have natural vitamin and minerals as well as antioxidants from the fruits - and it can be their special shake - - - and you can add other benefial things to it if it is necessary.
It would be nice to give you a sure-fire solution, but much like everything else with these kids, each one is unique and most of it is trial and error. I wish you luck and hope you do better than I have at getting some good eating habits instilled in your child!

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F - posted on 07/01/2012

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Hi Cheralee,

My four-year-old daughter also has autism, and she is also a picky eater. We don't frequent McDonald's much, but she does love most chicken nuggets. She has seen an occupational therapist for feeding therapy, and the therapist recommended the book Food Chaining. It gives strategies for expanding the different kinds of foods children eat. Unfortunately, it's a very slow process. Also, my daughter's pediatrician recommended the cookbook Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. It has recipes for favorite foods like chicken nuggets and brownies, but the recipes also include pureed vegetables and fruits. My daughter loves the brownies made with spinach and carrot purees. We also like to buy dried fruits and veggies because my daughter avoids "slimy" or even most moist foods. We like the Just Tomatoes brand; they make freeze dried fruits and vegetables. You can find them at natural food stores like Sunflower Market or Whole Foods, or you can check out their web site. It has helped us find fruits and vegetables my daughter will eat willingly. Good luck. I know it's not an easy road.

Chalon - posted on 03/21/2011

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If your child has autism, my guess is it's more of a texture issue than taste. Since you know what she will eat, try to stay within those same type of textures.

Cathy - posted on 03/20/2011

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Offer different, healthy foods at every meal. Kids will try things eventlually -- PDD or NT.

Jennie - posted on 03/17/2011

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My son is 8 and is a very picky eater. He has ADHD and is being tested for other things right now. He use to eat mac n cheese and pizza and pretty much what other kids ate when they were 2 years. Then by 2 1/2 he would only eat broccoli ,green beans, carrotts, tomatoes. He loves fruit and vegetables. It's great that he loves veggies but he doesn't gain any weight. He is so little. His dr always said feed him what he will eat and I do. He loves mcdondalds plain hamburgers. He eats them every day. But if the bun looks different he won't eat it. He also likes spaghetti but only if me or his dad make it. He will eat a cookie from mcdonalds but won't eat one from anywhere else. He use to eat yoguart but then the packaging changed and he won't he it anymore. Also he will only drink out of certain cups at home. I don't think this is ADHD behavior right?

B - posted on 03/17/2011

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It is so funny everyone is on the same boat with the McD's nuggets, us too. My son is almost 8 and he ate ok until about 4 years old. Now it is nuggets, corn dogs, mini corndogs, PBJ, anything sweet, bananas, apples and just about any juice or milk. He will STILL literally vomit if we make him try something. We did buy the Sneeky Chef and he will eat the french toast sometimes. It has carrot puree in it. Shh! You just have to sneek it in. We bought chocolate milk with extra protein, whole fruit-fruit roll-ups, sugar free cookies, not from concentrate apple juice (which I love). We also give him focus factor for kids, reg gummy vitamins, omega 3 kids gummies, and probiotics for kids. Sounds like a lot but you have to get it in when and where you can. The V8 Frusion too. We bought a water cooler and now he is drinking water (he thinks it is cool). My doctor said give him what he will eat. He will now eat Papa Murphy's cheese Pizza, which is amazing to us. The first new food in 6 months so we take it as we can get it. But we also put strawberry juice in his morning milk (made from sneeky chef), he likes that too. We are going to be exploring the cookbook more over spring break.



Good luck to you. I think it will hopefully come with age.

Thea - posted on 03/17/2011

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Hi, every child is different, the senses are so varied. My son is 4 as well and he is an extremely pick eater. He likes sausages so I blend steamed vegies to a pulp and mix them into the sausage mix. This is the only thing he will eat for dinner every night, every week, every month.
I am not really worried though because he is eating those sausages and he doesnt know I have packed them full of vegies. Every month I try to add more vegie weight and less sausage, slow changes.
My advice is to not stress, work with what you have got, try to add some goodness in somehow.
Alway add extra on the plate, you may say "she wont eat it" but its always available just in case.
Read some book where some really smart parents have sneakily added fruit and vegies into foods.

As for the McNuggets, I dont think you can say that all kids with autism love nuggets. But if yours does then see if you can buy some nuggets infused with vegies and put them in an empty McDonalds container (re-use your containers) and give it to them to eat. If the kids are visually orientated then you have something to work with. Good luck :-)

Rose - posted on 03/16/2011

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I'm with you. My 9 yr old Aspi son is so very picky. I think he's now more in the habit then anything else. All he will eat.. and I'm not exaggerating is: quesadillas, cheese pizza, mac n cheese(extra cheesy kind), mc d's nuggets, fries, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and sweets like cake and chocolate.
When he was around 3 yrs we forced him to try foods. We ended up having vomit all over the kitchen table. His OT tried to work with him but it just didn't get him to try other foods regularly. He's getting a little plump in the mid section and I don't see him changing anytime soon. Maybe when he's 18 yrs old. Carbs are the thing with the exception of nuggets and eggs.

Jo - posted on 03/15/2011

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My daughter is 5 and really loves science. We pretend we are Scientists and go through a series of sensory exercises to integrate the foods into her "rolodex" of knowledge. First we look at it, this is the easiest to do because it really doesn't require much on the part of the child. Have your child describe what it looks like to them and validate that opinion. Next move on to listening to the food, smelling the food, and touching the food. Doing it in this order slowly builds closer contact with the food, and helps to eliminate some of the "scariness" that surrounds the food. In our house, most foods smell like cotton candy (though my daughter hates cotton candy). Macaroni and cheese smells like flowers though. Make it fun, if your child has a "rolodex" of knowledge like my daughter, that first experience is vital to how they perceive it every other time in the future. Don't get frustrated if your child has a fit the first few times. My daughter has them almost every time, but I can get her through the first three senses pretty well, once I can get her to hold the fork. Often, for us, thats the biggest part of the battle. After touching, have your child taste it. Make sure you ask them to describe it to you after each sense. It helps them put into words what they are experiencing, even if it doesn't make sense to you (I mean does Mac & Cheese really smell like flowers? I doubt it. But it does look "cheesy"). Keep your voice calm the whole time, my daughter gets worked up and anxious if you raise your voice. Remember to keep it fun, and if your child simply licks the food that first time, make a big deal about it! Have them call Grandma, or Auntie and get really excited about them licking whatever it was. It will reinforce the behavior and make it much easier to try that food again in the future. Flood them with the new food (one at a time) after they've tried it. My daughter still wont eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (because jelly is sticky and touches the peanut butter), but will eat a spoonful of Mac & Cheese now. That was a huge step for her since her tactile issue often keep her from even looking at food when its (cheesy, wet, has sauce, etc). She calls spaghetti sauce "mud" lol

Just remember to have fun. Be excited, don't discourage, and try, try again. It can take up to 15 tries for neurotypical children to develop an interest in a particular food. Imagine how hard it is for our kids.

Good Luck!

Jenni - posted on 03/15/2011

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hi this is my 8 year she has Autism and a very picky eater i put 3 different plates of food out at tea and they all have different things on them. it does take awhile after much encouragement but i can get her to try something of the plate she really likes creamy potatoe and peas mixed together she is alot of other disabilities and is still on a bottle as she can go days without eating and her specialist has esured me that she wont starve she will eat but being her mother you worry i would just keep trying different foods at tea time i play games with her at the table with the food and can get the food into her mouth and she will swallow it. i hope this helps you but it is very hard just keep trying good luck

Kristi - posted on 03/15/2011

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The first thing you have got to figure out is - is it the smell, texture, or both that seems to be the problem. with my son its a little of both. I was worried about his nutrition but the doctor says we know our children better and to work with the child. my son, seems to enjoy things for months on end, then it changes. It used to be the same food item all day long, for months. Now we are able to change throughout the day. I trick I did learn is this- my son likes canned chili, I buy a baby food product similiar in color, put a teaspoon in the chili, without him seeing me do it. This gets him just a little bit more of what he needs, its never enough to change the color or taste but its in there.

Its a guessing game that you will learn how to play in time.
good luck

Sharon - posted on 03/15/2011

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My son used to lick his food to taste it. He was checking the texture really. For a long time all he would eat was a certian brand of soup,sausages from a certain butchers and plain crisps. He will still only eat plain crisps and meat if it is very tender. He still doesn't like to chew food too much he finds it hard. He does eat a much wider variety of foods. He is 15 now but it has been a long haul. Hang in there. X

Allyison - posted on 03/15/2011

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Hello, My 10 yr old loves chicken nuggets but I also make red beans and rice, and spaghetti. She likes my mother stuffing too. Oh, also frozen waffles or pancakes I can't get her away from them. Hope this helps

Megan - posted on 03/13/2011

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As someone else said, try lots of tastes and textures. My son gags on baked or mashed potatoes because he can't handle the texture. Oatmeal too. Flavors don't tend to be as much of an issues. He also really liked bananas as long as I sliced them, for a really long time it was about the only fruit he would eat. But yogurt was always a winner. So just try new things, combined with some old standbys so that she has something she can eat, so it doesnt become overly stressful for her.

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