Fussy eating & autism

If you son or daughter struggles to try new healthier foods their long term health could eventually become affected. Learning how to give subtle consistent encouragement and establishing routines for mealtimes and snacks will open their minds up to trying new foods and help them to live healthier lives.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 02.09.10If their food obsessions are the result of a physical or psychological condition finding ways to help can become more complicated. Children on the autistic spectrum are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges where encouraging variety or changing the routine can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress. Only eating foods a certain colour or resisting any change in the eating process are just two typical examples of how someone with autism copes with any anxieties surrounding their eating.


My family helped me eat healthier by involving me in the whole process of choosing and preparing food in the form of a regular routine. I was given the opportunity to be in charge of my new and improved healthy diet. Once a week I would go to a local supermarket, withdraw my own cash from the machine, grab a basket then proceed in selecting different fruit to last me the week. I would then take my selection to the checkout and pay. This event runs like clockwork and I gain great comfort in the whole process. I didn’t once feel like this process was forced upon me because I was making all the decisions and shown new ways of enjoying my independence.

How do I get my son/daughter to try new healthier foods?

  1. Experiment with creative ways of trying something new – turn the food into a face, make the samples bitesize, change its appearance
  2. Don’t make a fuss or get frustrated with your attempts – Always stay consistent in your style, too much emotional reaction will just act as a distraction
  3. Offer simple clear choices and allow them to lead – the more involved they become in making decisions the more they will invest into this new routine
  4. Avoid the temptation of offering rewards – the focus should be on learning to love new foods and not suffering them to get something else
  5. Understanding the food obsession – try to see the world through their eyes and discover more patients
  6. Make sure the environment is right for getting better results – any distractions will stop you making any progress
  7. If you’re not enjoying it then its likely they won’t either – try to keep the process positive and enjoyable
  8. Stick to your routine – predictable routine can be a great comfort to someone who lives with autism

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8 thoughts on “Fussy eating & autism”

  1. Thank you for the insight, Mark and Adrian. I really enjoyed viewing your website for the first time. It has some great information, and I really like the artwork! It was a very interesting concept to me that you shouldn’t reward and cause just tolerating an unappealing food. That is such a good point that is easy for people to overlook. Do you feel that verbal praise is a good idea to encourage healthier eating habits? Thanks again for all of the great information!

    1. Thank you Lisa, verbal praise can be very effective but sometimes we become desensitised to familiar words used to encourage and praise. When this happens we require a feeling of self-belief, that’s often achieved when we make something work for us and admire our achivement.

  2. My cousin’s daughters are all fussy eaters, and I can say that it is quite a hassle dealing with children like that. I feel that she had made a mistake of consistently bringing her kids to eat out.

    They rarely had the chance to cook their own food or eat at the comfort of their home. The tips you have about letting them take charge of their meals is very appealing. However, do you think it’s too late to try that strategy on kids who are going into their pre-teens?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Thank you for your comments Farhan. Finding alternative ways to encourage someone to do something (that despite being good for them) they are resistant to becomes harder to do the more that person is aware of what’s happening. The more subtle your encouragement the more effective it can be. With someone who is wise to this process its more important to focus on the routine and ritual. Placebos work even when the patient knows they have taken a placebo. The process of taking medication or placebos seems to hold the power. The action and interaction, routine, ritual. Find a process that works and stick at it.

  3. Is fussy eating and Autism common, my oldest son has Autism but he does not seem to be a fussy eater. He is high functioning, does this make any difference on their eating preferences?

    Autism is a wide spread condition today, great your writing your articles on this topic it will help so man people.

    1. I have only met a few people who are on the spectrum and also have obsessions about mealtimes and food. This can manifest itself in many ways; such as arranging the food on a plate so the different types of food dont touch. If they did the food would be left uneaten. Or only being able to eat foods if they are a certain colour. The most common food obsessions I’ve come across are ones that can cause you to overeat. Its possible that this is to do with routine and sensory satisfaction. As we all know food is comforting and for someone on the autistic spectrum I could easily imagine the pleasure obtained by food, not only in the eating but how it can be built into a routine and be totally controlled. No two people on the autistic spectrum are the same and an obsession or special interest can develop within a person in a huge variety of ways. My brother Adrian has developed routines around the buying, eating and snacking of food that have helped him to make healthy choices. I think we can all relate to that in one way or another.

  4. Some interesting insights here. I have no direct contact with an autistic child but cam across your post and found the subject very interesting. I think some of these ideas (if not all of them?) could be used with children who are not autistic but just fussy. I think including children in things that concern them is extremely desirable, and eating and preparing meals definitely falls into that category. Not only does it teach them responsibility and independence but it shows that you trust in their ability to do what needs to be done. And like you say it teaches/encourages them to adopt healthy eating habits.
    All the best

    1. Thank you for your comment. I hope these ideas can help others overcome some of the challenges described in this post.

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