Family Meal Times with Kids with Autism

Family Meal Times with Kids with Autism

Regular mealtimes and other strategies help children with autism learn good behaviors and make meals more enjoyable for the whole family.

Keep mealtimes consistent

Children with autism thrive on regular schedules. Serve your meals at the same times each day in designated eating areas like the dining room or kitchen. To help your child learn to sit at the table, you should have him or her eat there regularly with your family and with limited distractions. 

Be patient and flexible 

If your child currently does not sit at the table for meals, start with a short amount of time that your child is willing to stay there. This might be five minutes or as brief as 30 seconds. As your child is able to tolerate that period of time, slowly increase the amount of time at the table until you reach a typical meal time of 15 to 30 minutes.

Eat the same foods, be a role model

To encourage your child with autism to eat healthy foods, show your own willingness to eat a wide variety of foods. Children are more likely to try new, healthy foods if they see family members eating those foods. Continue to offer new foods several times. Most children require being exposed to a new food 15 to 20 times—or even more—before they will try or accept it. 

Provide attention and praise

Eating new foods can be very hard for some kids. Use descriptive praise to tell your child exactly what you liked by saying things like, “Great job trying that new food.” Do this even when your child licks, tastes or bites a piece of the new food, even if he or she spits it out.

Structuring mealtime will help to create a positive environment. Set clear expectations and reinforce appropriate mealtime behavior. And always encourage openness to trying new foods.