Are mealtimes with your picky eater a struggle?
Many parents to a child with autism tell me mealtimes are the least favorite part of their day.
If you’re looking to have calmer, happier mealtimes with your picky eater, read on.
How An Eating Schedule Can Improve Mealtimes
Do you have a schedule for meals and snacks? Or does your day feel like one never-ending cycle of doling out snacks, preparing meals, and cleaning it all up?
An eating routine may not seem to have much to do with what and how your child eats, but consistency and clear expectations during mealtimes can actually improve both your little one’s appetite and behavior at meals. Kids who eat all day likely aren’t hungry for meals and therefore tend to not eat or behave well when it’s time to sit down.
Incessant snacking has become the norm for many children. Non-stop eating can mess with hunger and satiety cues (the feelings that let us know when we’re hungry and full) and can also interfere with mealtimes. Children with autism are already prone to gorging and, due to sensory impairments, are more likely to have trouble identifying their hunger and fullness.
Creating a schedule for snacks and meals is one of the first recommendations I share with the autism families I work with.
Parents are always surprised at what a big difference consistency makes in behavior and eating. Plus, a lot of kids on the autism spectrum love routine and knowing what to expect. The boundaries and consistency provide the support they need to thrive during meals, improve their diets, and ultimately meet their nutritional needs. You can imagine what a significant impact this can have on both home and social life!
5 Ways To Create an Eating Schedule For Your Family
- Start by deciding what works best for your family.
- Make small changes, one at a time. For example, you can begin by scheduling dinner and eating at the same time and in the same place nightly before adjusting snack times.
- Share the plan. And review expectations. Some expectations may include no eating or drinking (aside from water) between meals or that everyone must stay seated until the meal is over.
- Inviting your kids to participate in meal planning and decision making as appropriate. This helps them feel included and gives them some agency, which will increase their acceptance to the new routine. Some ideas to get your kids involved include: setting the table, clearing the table, folding napkins, setting the timer (see below), and selecting recipes.
Find more suggestions for getting kids involved with food prep in my free downloadable guide. Melanie Potock’s book Adventures in Veggieland also has a ton of amazing ideas for introducing kids to food and cooking.
Use visual clues to support the schedule. Consider investing in a visual cue like a timer to help your child visualize how long they need to sit at meal times. Limit snacks to 15 minutes and meals to around 30 minutes. I recommend the Mini Time Tracker and the Audible Time Timer.
Remember all changes can take time to get used to. Stick to it. Your routine should begin to feel normalish within two weeks. If something doesn’t feel right, reassess and adjust as you go to make a schedule and routine work for your family.
A mealtime schedule (eating meals at regular intervals and avoiding between meal eating and drinking) can make mealtimes calmer and more enjoyable and can actually improve how your picky eater eats.
Using the tips above, make a plan for transitioning to scheduled mealtimes. As always, I suggest starting small and introducing a new change every three days. Keep your kids involved by letting them know that you’re going to start making some adjustments to help everyone eat better and enjoy eating together more.
The exact approach that have helped my clients see immediate results – in one easy-to-read guide.