Eating Issues and Kids with Special Needs

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 02:30 pm

The "I'm Not Eating This" FaceSo many parents and caregivers struggle with issues surrounding food, with special needs kids and typical kids as well. For some kids the issues are medical so they require a specific diet, or they have a condition than includes low muscle tone. For others it’s a sensory thing, so they will only eat crunchy foods, or white foods, or the rules may change daily. For other kids it may be a control issue, and refusing food or demanding certain foods can be the only thing way they feel they can influence their world.

Whatever the underlying reason (and of course there may be more than one at the same time), the issues usually fall into two separate categories; getting kids to eat more, and getting kids to eat less.

All kids need to eat healthy foods and get all their vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Supplements and nutritional drinks can fill in the gaps for both kids who seem to exist on nothing as well as those who seem to only allow junk food to pass through their lips. My own child survived on Pediasure for years, but we never stopped encouraging actual food and expanding on her diet.

Both types of kids seem to be fairly picky about their eating. Pizza, chicken nuggets and hot dogs may be the only dinners that get their approval. Buying or making the healthiest versions is a good bet, so that each calorie will be full of nutrients and not just preservatives and chemicals – but something is always better than nothing, especially for the kids who need to eat more. For those who need to less, veggie-covered pizza is more filling than plain cheese pizza, and a salad eaten before the all white-meat chicken nuggets may keep the child from asking for seconds. At my house we have a strict veggies first policy. We also demand that a second helping of veggies is finished before a second helping of anything else. But we are mean at my house (LOL). Sometimes the veggies even appear as an appetizer while my ravenous children suffer through the torture of waiting for me preparing dinner. It’s amazing what will get eaten when a child is truly hungry.

All kids can benefit from a little undercover food. Fruits and veggies that might be refused (usually loudly) can be smuggled in undetected in many ways. Of course smoothies are a great way to slip in lots of ingredients, as well as protein powders. Pureed popsicles are also good, especially here in the hot weather. I got away with steamed, pureed cauliflower added to boxed mac and cheese and shredded zucchini in marinara sauce for years. Sadly, as my kids got older they also got wise to my tricks. Zucchini muffins, however, are still a big hit.

I grew up in a house with a VitaMix, which is a high-powered combination of a blender and a food processor. This workhorse is perfect for making your own nut betters or flours if you have specific dietary needs. It also makes killer smoothies and soups, and can even heat the soup. Check the customer reviews for great usage and cleaning tips.  Nowadays we have a Magic Bullet, which is great for individual servings and smoothies as well as some chopping  chores. The Nutri Bullet is an entire juicing system.

Fruitn_Cheese_Snack_MixThere are ways to sneak calories other than veggies into food for kids who need to bulk up. Try buttering bread before making a sandwich, or pair a favorite food with a new one to expand the child’s repertoire so it isn’t overwhelming – there is something familiar and comforting on the plate. Stick with whole milk, cheese and cottage cheese even if you swear by skim. I knew a mom who always served sandwiches with dip – salad dressing or veggie puree. Added calories and a bit of sensory fun, too! Food presented in a fun way or in fun shapes may also get gobbled up easier than the same old sandwich.

Both kids who need to eat more and kids who need to eat less should be involved in the food in the house. Take a trip to a local farm or a local farmers’ market so the child can see, feel, smell and taste the varieties. Getting to choose an item may make it seem more appealing on the table. Gardening is also great and lets the kids watch the growth and maturation of the fruits and veggies.

There are food and eating therapists who use exposure therapy and rewards. I heard of one that had a cute, friendly dog in the room – if the child licked the new food he or she got to pet the dog. Her patients made great progress and the dog got a lot of attention! There are also eating groups where kids come together to try new items in a fun atmosphere. If there is a control issue between you and the child then he or she may have more success with food away from you. My child is a social eater and is more likely to try something new if we are out at a restaurant or at a party. Then I can observe what she likes and try to make it for her at home. It takes about 6 exposures to a new food before a picky kid with actually try it, sort of how they naturally desensitize themselves, so try to be patient.

A nutritionist can also help. There may be a biochemical reason a child craves a certain food constantly. Get allergy tests done, too, especially if your child is avoiding an entire food group. Again, for older kids, it seems to help to hear advice from someone other than mom.

Food issues can be frustrating for everyone, whatever challenges they face. Try not to make mealtimes a battle; these kids have enough struggles in their daily lives.

Got a specific question about your child’s eating? Post it below!

Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links, fyi After all, a girl and her kids have to eat. Also, I am not a nutritionist so I am not giving anyone medical advice. Check with your pediatrician for any dietary questions.

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie has also served as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner and serves as a contributor on the Yahoo! Contributor Network. She can be reached at rosie327@aol.com.Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

Comments

7 Responses to “Eating Issues and Kids with Special Needs”

  1. Nutrimom - Food Allergy LiasonNutrimom says:

    A woman after my own heart- I cram protein and veggies into every nook and cranny available! Thinking outside of the box not only keeps your family healthy but it teaches you how to use what you have in new ways.

  2. My five year old is a great eater but I have such a hard time with my oldest!

  3. Lena says:

    Just pinned this article to my sensory seeker board here (http://www.pinterest.com/way2goodlife/sensory-seeker/) – Thank you for the insights – I love it and my son makes exactly the same face

    • Stefanie Zuckersazucker says:

      Hi Lena,
      My apologies for the delay in posting your comment…for some reason it ended up in our spam folder (sometimes these WordPress plugins are fantastic…and sometimes…Yikes!!!). Anyway, just wanted to let you know we really appreciated your stopping by and taking the time to let us know you pinned the post! Thanks very much! 🙂

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!