How we’re gradually introducing new food into our son’s restricted diet

Of all the challenges that come with autism, the restricted diet of our son has been one of the hardest to tackle.

We’ve tried many different strategies over the years to encourage him to eat a wider variety of food but, so far, we haven’t been all that successful.

The trouble with new food

With Gilbert, his fear of trying food is due to a mixture of sensory sensitivity, anxiety and deliberate resistance. This combination has resulted in a pretty restricted diet over the years.

We know he prefers crunchy textures and is generally under-responsive to sensory input so giving him food with extra crunch helps overcome these barriers.

We know he struggles with generalised anxiety disorder, on top of his autism diagnosis, which means he can often feel anxiety in any facet of his life, for any reason. This has led him to view change and new experiences as threats, so he unconsciously stops himself from even considering trying something new, such as a new food.

There’s also an element of opposition too, unrelated to his sensory needs or anxiety. To be honest, he has set his mind against trying new food and it’s near impossible for him to soften this stance. He is especially against trying anything that’s remotely healthy, which has been a huge barrier to increasing his diet.

After years of trying to push him for a few weeks, only to give up and revert to preparing multiple meals again, we’ve taken a new approach this year.

Restricted diet -

A more proactive approach to meal planning

As a family, we now decide together on our menu for the coming week. Each Sunday night, at the dinner table, we talk about what we’d like to try and we map out a menu for the week ahead.

The week’s menu involves alternating between what the kids want to eat one night and then what we want to eat on the next.

Everyone has input and everyone has to agree. By agreeing to the menu, the kids know they are expected to try everything, not just the meals they prefer.

On alternate nights, the kids can have what THEY want to eat, but they need to work together to make a single choice for everyone. No more multiple meals here!

On the other nights, the kids are expected to try something that WE choose. Even if it’s roast, tuna, curry or quiche (meals that all our kids have traditionally resisted in the past).

A new take on dessert

We’ve also instituted a new approach to dessert as we found ourselves serving up some sort of dessert each night, which we found truly unnecessary – it had just become a habit we’d all fallen into.

Now, we have “Sundae Friday.” Every Friday is dessert night. To make up for not having dessert on the other nights of the week, we let the kids make the most elaborate sundaes possible. Ice cream, custard, whipped cream, topping, wafers, lollies, maple syrup – you name it, they can have it. But only for one night each week.

We were expecting a lot of opposition to this change given how entrenched our tradition of nightly dessert had become. But, we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the kids adjusted to Sundae Friday. They only occasionally ask for dessert now – it helps that they REALLY make their dessert count now on Fridays!

What’s worked so far

Encouraging the kids, especially Gilbert, to be part of our menu planning has already made a big difference to how we eat as a family.

We are no longer preparing multiple meals each night – we have planned for the one meal and we’ve been sticking to it. That’s been a huge step forward and has certainly made things easier for us at night.

The girls have been enjoying a more varied diet. For too long they ate meals dictated by their brother’s preferences as we tended to cook a meal for the kids collectively and a separate one for us.

Now, they are loving the chance to try new things. We somehow missed how Gilbert’s attitude to food was affecting them (even though it was right there in our face, every day). We can finally help them develop healthy food habits and discover new and exciting flavours to try.

It’s also been encouraging to see Gilbert tolerate having something new on his plate every second night and not immediately explode in anger each time.

The kids have also expressed interest in helping to cook a meal each week which will be our next leap forward. Gilbert is about to start food tech at high school so we’re hoping to leverage off that and get him to practice food preparation at home too.

It’s going to be a slow process

To be honest, Gilbert is still not eating a lot of the food put in front of him on non-preferred meal nights. He might be tolerating having something new put in front of him every second night but he’s not eating a lot of it or giving it a proper go.

We’re hoping this will improve with time and with him being exposed to new food at high school. At least, we’ve broken through his first barrier – there may be a few more to go, but we’re making progress.

Restricted diet -

How have you managed a restricted diet? Any hints or tips to share?

This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs blog hop where myself and other special needs bloggers share our thoughts on a set theme each month. This month’s theme is “food, diet & mealtime.” I’d love for you to check out all the other posts linked up for this month!

Parenting Children with Special Needs

Food Issues: Are They Behavioral, Sensory Related or Medical? | Every Star is Different

How We’re Gradually Introducing New Food Into Our Son’s Restricted Diet | My Home Truths

Nutrition for Childhood Trauma | The Chaos and The Clutter

Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism | And Next Comes L

How to Help a Non Verbal Autistic Child at Make Meal Time Choices| Kori at Home

30 Things SPD Parents Secretly Wish You Knew About Their “Picky Eater” | Lemon Lime Adventures

The 7 Food Battles Not Worth Fighting About With Your Picky Eater with Special Needs | Finding the Golden Gleam

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16 Responses

  1. Raych says:

    Sounds like a great way forward. Hoping you slowly start to see some improvement. I have a fairly restricted diet myself which makes meals time interesting. Our youngest this week is doing an experiment with school which has her turning into a vegetarian for a fortnight, which has added to the meal prep chaos. If they then ask her to become vegan, I may ask her to find somewhere to board for the fortnight.
    Raych recently posted..Review | The Play That Goes Wrong

    • Kirsty says:

      How is she coping with the experiment? Any moods swings or physical differences? It’s amazing what a small change in diet can do to a body (as I know you are already aware). Good luck with balancing it all for the next fortnight!

      • Raych says:

        Only day one. The weird thing, she usually has a 90% veggie/fruit date as it is. We need to force her to eat the meat/fish we are all having, as she tends to just eat a big bowl of veggies. The fact that it is an experiment and she is reporting it, has added an element of stress to menu planning. I should have forced her to become a vegetarian a long time ago, she may have gone completely in the other direction.

        It’s funny when a food group is taken away from, it is all you want. Like me with bread. I can’t come at the gluten free stuff, it’s normall full of other stuff I can’t eat. So I just don’t have bread. Oh, how I miss bread. And butter. And dairy. And corn. And bacon. And pork. And eggs. Can’t say I’m missing soy. Can’t say I’m seeing any real results. Although I’m told it will take months.
        Raych recently posted..Review | The Play That Goes Wrong

  2. All great stuff. My daughter has sensory issues and between 2-3 yrs old cut out most foods. She is now 13 1/2 and it has been a VERY gradual acceptance process of new foods (usually less healthy things first but every food was celebrated). She started home ec this semester at high school and it has had a HUGE impact. She previously are no fruits and her veg (reluctantly) included thinly sliced raw carrot, steamed broccoli with lots of oil and butter and occasionally corn on the cob (all small amounts). In the handful of weeks of home ex she has tried beef stir fry with a sauce!!! Ate whole fruit kebabs (and actually declared she liked rockmelon which she has now eaten a few times), are the burgers they made even though the kids added chunks of onion and way too much cumin (I have never been able to add even tiny diced onion) and on it goes. She tried lettuce for the first time (hated the mouth feel)!!!

  3. That all sounds very sensible. We are a mostly multiple meals family. My son is 4 and only minimally verbal, so bringing him in for input is not yet an option. We are quite lucky in that he will eat a lot of pasta/risotto/stew/soup kind of meals at dinner that I can cram full of vegies and meat (he’s iron deficient, of course), but he will only eat it if spoon fed. Then he happily spoon feeds himself yoghurt and mashed banana afterwards. I don’t think that most people have an appreciation of how complicated and scientific the while sensory side of autism is. I have just signed up for your guide to travelling as an autistic family, as it is currently a far away dream 🙂

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Dani! I’ll email it through to you as I’m having issues with how everything is linking up email wise at the moment. In the process of sorting it all out in between everything else that’s going on around here!

  4. Good luck with all the new changes! x

  5. Tegan says:

    Dyllan struggles with trying new foods too. Especially if they are vegetables. We have a rule that he has to at least try something before declaring it disgusting, which mostly works. To be honest though, his food aversion has gotten progressively worse.
    Tegan recently posted..Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase: Review

  6. Sounds like you’re making some progress, and that’s great! And I bet it’s a relief not having to cook so many different meals now! My brother is almost 25 and it’s virtually impossible to get him to try new foods. He lives on chicken schnitzel, cheese, rice & carrots! When we go out to dinner he might have a steak but if it isn’t completely cooked (like, really well done) it can cause a massive issue and he won’t touch a single thing after that. I remember one year about 5 or 6 years ago we went out for my birthday and they put gravy on his steak and that was it. We got it sent back and another one without gravy for him, but the damage had been done and he wouldn’t even look at anyone for the rest of the night, and it’s like that so often at family dinner night too, if even the slightest thing is wrong with his food. He’s slowly gotten better, it won’t ruin his entire night if there is an issue with his food, but man, I don’t know how Mum deals with it every day, it’s hard, so I’m happy to see that you’ve been able to make small changes that are starting to work xx

  7. Amanda says:

    Best of luck trying to introduce new foods! My eldest child has an extremely restricted diet and we have started taking steps into getting professional help for her, as right now she won’t touch fruit and very limited vegetables. I’ve truly met my match in trying to get her to look at new options!
    Amanda recently posted..Starting Solids: A What You Need Guide

  8. inthegoodbooksblog says:

    Best of luck with all of the changes, I hope that it is successful.

  9. Vanessa says:

    Must be a big change to cook just the one meal. I hope this new strategy keeps working so it simplifies one area of your life.
    Vanessa recently posted..2017 Oz Comic-Con Giveaway

  10. Good luck with your new system, sounds like it’s working in getting them to at least try. I wish my kids weren’t so bloody fussy. I can’t remember my aspey son being as fussy as them. But I was only dealing with one kid then, so totally not the same as a few kids to try and feed.
    Alicia O’Brien recently posted..Must watch TV

  11. Rebekah says:

    Not succumbing to a fit of anger with a new meal is a huge big step! Well done!

  1. March 24, 2017

    […] How We’re Gradually Introducing New Food Into Our Son’s Restricted Diet by My Home Truths […]

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