Monday, March 5, 2012

Fussy Eating Chart

Like a lot of kids with Autism, Bubble is very picky when it comes to her food. She is sensitive to smell, colour and texture, and for many years she would not eat anything but white or yellow food. Her diet consisted mainly of plain white rice, pasta spirals, cheese, bread, bananas and peeled pears.
She would not have food mixed together and putting a 'new' item on, or even next to, her plate would result in gagging and refusal to eat anything at all.
We tried not to make a big deal out of food and turn mealtimes into a war zone, but it was hard. Everyone wants their child to eat well and enjoy healthy foods.
Of course all children - on the spectrum or not - are different in what works for them and what does not, but I thought I'd share a few tips that have helped Bubble broaden her diet in recent years. Although she will always be picky she now has a lot of new foods she enjoys, eats quite a few different fruits and is much more open to trying new things which is quite exciting for us.
Obviously these ideas are based on our family structure and beliefs, so they won't be for everybody, but hopefully they might inspire some new things to try if meal times are a bit of a headache at your house too.

Separating foods : keeping foods separate on the plate seems to appeal visually to Bubble and also makes the process of eating a meal less overwhelming. We use Tupperware divided bowls when we are out, but at home I like to use small ramekin style bowls which hold a good quantity of food without crowding the plate too much. Have a hunt at your local supermarket or dollar shop, you can usually pick them up in a variety of shapes and colours very cheaply.

New Food Day: in our home Thursdays are 'new food day'. When we do our weekly shop Bubble will choose something new for us all to try. A little portion of whatever it is gets added to our plates at dinner time, but because she is expecting it and has had control over what it is, the resistance is lessened hugely. Sometimes she tries the new food, sometimes she doesn't, but at least it's there on her plate and her interest is piqued.

Fun And Interesting Utensils: give Bubble a bowl of blueberries and she may or may not eat a few. Give her a bowl of frozen blueberries and a skewer to spear them with and she'll eat the whole lot. Get a bit creative with eating utensils and make it fun, follow your child's interests and incorporate them into mealtimes. Try eating large pasta spirals with mini tongs or serve dinner in the back of a (clean!) toy dump truck, even something as simple as stickers of their favourite characters on their cutlery can make things more enticing.

Children's chopsticks are cheap, fun to use and also a good fine motor workout.

Name Labels: Bubble is and always has been very interested in letters. Because of this she learnt to spell her name at an early age and loves to see it written on things! We have used this to our advantage a few times in the form of name labels. Before we established 'new food day' I would take a white sticky label with Bubble's name written on it with us to the supermarket each week and put it on a different fruit when she wasn't looking. Fruits with 'her name on them' were selected especially for her because they were yummy and she loved searching for her name every time.
If your child is pre-reading age any kind of sticker would work, maybe a dot sticker of their favourite colour, glitter stickers or ones with themed pictures/characters.

Vary Your Location: I know a lot of people believe in always eating at the table, so this idea isn't for everyone, but we often vary where we eat our meals. We might have a picnic dinner in the toy room, set up a tent in the backyard if the weather is nice or even take a 'dinner drive' where we pack dinner into foil containers and drive to different places to sit and eat together. Sitting in the car with the windows down next to the beach or finding a great new parkland to sit in while we eat our tea is always a nice change.

Why not use your play tea set for more than just pretend play.

Food Group Chart: Bubble is a very visual person and the best way we have found to get her interested in things is to use visual aids of varying kinds. A while back we implemented a food group chart at the dinner table, which is simply a laminated mat with pictures of different types of foods we would like to encourage her to eat. We have had a few versions of the chart, the first one contained only two different pictures and we have added to it over time.
Bubble has a whiteboard marker that goes with her chart and once she has either eaten all of that food (for established foods) or tried a little bit (for new/unpopular foods) she can add a tick to the picture.
There is no consequence or incentive for getting a certain number of ticks, the act of being able to 'check off' a food group is enticing enough to Bubble luckily but it could be used in conjunction with a separate reward chart of some sort. The important thing is to have that visual cue there on the table, reminding her to try all the different things on her plate, without us having to verbalise it.

We keep Bubble's food chart on a clip board which gets hung on the back of the pantry door between meals.

Any foods that are not included in the meal we put a cross through.

Bubble loves 'checking off' her food chart as she finishes each category. It also gives us a great platform for talking about which foods belong in which groups and why.


  1. I have one fussy eater and I try not to argue over food with her, but that often means we leave out a food group or two. These are great ideas for a non confrontational mealtime and I'm going to give them a try! I really like the "new food Thursday" idea. That's even fun for non picky eaters!

  2. Thanks Kelly! Yes I enjoy 'new food day' just as much as the girls do I think :D

  3. These look like great ideas for all children who find food eating challenging. What great ideas!

  4. I love all these ideas. I do a lot of this with my daughter who was a very, very picky toddler and somewhat picky preschooler. ;) Separating food has been key for us. A lot of people don't get why we do it, but I would rather my daughter eat a variety of healthy foods than refuse to eat a mixed up meal and later eating too many crackers or something else to make up for her missed meal. Another thing I do is make sure that snacks, breakfast, and lunch or her foods I know that she will eat. I experiment more at dinner. I was chuckling at the little bowl idea bc I so relate to that. I have become somewhat enamored with collecting small little bowls for mealtimes since it helps my daughter eat better. I need to try eating with children's chopsticks to see if she will like that experience.

  5. Thanks Lori!
    Rebekah - I can very much relate to the bowl obsession, I'm always on the look out for them as well! :D

  6. Thanx for the suggestions. My son's almost 12 yrs old. He's getting tired of eating the same foods. Instead of increasing choices they're decreasing. New Food Day sounds great!