Explore 6 effective tips to introduce new foods to children with special needs, promoting a positive and enjoyable dining experience. Discover strategies to address sensory challenges and create a supportive environment, fostering healthy eating habits. Learn how to tailor meals to accommodate specific dietary needs, ensuring a balanced nutrition. Implement practical techniques to engage children in the process, making mealtime an opportunity for sensory exploration and development. These insights empower parents and caregivers to navigate the complexities of food introduction, promoting overall well-being and enhancing the dining journey for children with special needs. Transform mealtimes into moments of growth and joy with these valuable tips.
Trying new foods can be a challenging task, especially when working to try new foods for kids with special needs. When working to make healthy changes, sometimes kids need to try new foods in order to make better choices for their health! As summertime is here, it’s a great time to begin working to try new foods for special needs. We have compiled a list of tips and activities to help make this a fun experience for the whole family.
- Friday Try-Day
Trying new foods can take time to develop taste preferences and become used to new foods, especially if it is not a rhythm in place for the family. One practice can be a “Friday Try-day” where each week on Friday (or any other day!) your family knows that there will be new food to try to create new patterns to try new foods for kids with special needs. This could be a new vegetable, new protein food, or simply a new dinner recipe that has not yet been tried before. In fact, some kids may need to try foods up to 15 times in order to develop a taste for it!
Although your kids do not have to like these foods they try, the key is to at least help them to be comfortable enough to try the food. One way to have the best success with this may be to offer this food first before the rest of the meal when your child is the most hungry and willing to try new food. This rhythm and expected pattern can help increase exposure to new foods and help parents remember to try new foods for kids with special needs.
- Kid Chef
Kids love to be a part of any activity! Think of how often toddlers imitate mom or dad when they are younger, talking on the phone or playing pretend with a lawnmower toy or baby doll. As kids continue to grow up, they enjoy to learn new things and take on new responsibility! One way to help kids try new foods is to have them be involved in the process of what foods they will try. This can look like kids going to the grocery store and picking out a new vegetable, helping to prepare a new healthy dish, stirring a salad or sauce to go with dinner, or helping to set the menu with mom or dad! Working to give opportunities to try new foods can help you to try new foods for kids with special needs and give kids a fun new activity for the summertime!
- Playing With Your Food
When kids are young, they love to play with their food – ask any parent! But this does not have to be all bad. For kids who are picky eaters, having time to smell food and adjust to textures can help them to become more comfortable with foods and make it less scary to try something they have not had before. Having new foods with activities, such as sorting by color or painting with colored vegetable mashes, can help kids to adjust to these smells and textures without the pressure to have to eat a serving of this food. If they decide to take a taste, that is a great way to help to try new foods for kids with special needs, too, and encourage continued playtime and new food adventures!
- Love to Learn
Kids can be immensely curious, and as they learn new facts in school, their love of learning may continue to grow. If you have a child who you know loves to learn new things, incorporating a learning element to healthy eating may be a good option! This could include starting a small garden growing healthy vegetables or herbs, playing show and tell with new foods made in the kitchen with friends or family, or simply discussing facts about foods when trying a new vegetable or meal. Trying food that is in season can help to continue learning, and even an employee in the produce section or a farmer from a farmer’s market can offer some facts about the food to try new foods for kids with special needs and peak their interest!
- Mix ‘n’ Go
If your child is hesitant to try new foods or textures, working with them to become comfortable with foods in a familiar way may be a good option. When working to try new foods for kids with special needs, mixing foods together, such as making chicken meatballs with grated vegetables or pureeing vegetables into tomato sauce can help kids adjust to the flavors and smells slowly. Making kabobs of fruits with a new fruit not yet tried by your child or mixing a vegetable in with a soup can be less intimidating than having a whole section of a plate devoted to that food.
When trying these foods, use empowering language such as “you are still getting used to the taste” instead of “you don’t like that” or say “you are broadening your taste preferences” instead of “you are just a picky eater.” This can help your child to feel hopeful about the foods they eat and show there is room for gradual improvement!
- Identify Preferences
Identifying preference is an important part of working to try new foods for kids with special needs. Kids may have preferences for taste, texture, smell, sound, or sight, and eating a meal plays into all of these senses! Think of a crunchy carrot or creamy hummus or a tough piece of steak. All of these have different appearances, smells, flavors, textures, and sounds when you eat them! Try to find trends in the foods your child may or may not like. They may enjoy soft foods but not like the feel of crunchy foods when they chew, or they may feel weird about a smooth mashed vegetable in their mouth but have no problem with roasted vegetables! Trying to cook vegetables different ways can help to increase preferences and help you find ways to try new foods for kids with special needs.
We hope that seeing new ways to incorporate foods into your family’s meal patterns can help encourage you to try new foods for kids with special needs! Creating a positive and fun atmosphere around food can help children know how to best fuel their body with healthy fruits and vegetables and lean proteins to best meet their nutrition goals! If you have any questions about what foods would be the best to try, feel free to reach out to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with Special Strong for tips to try new foods for kids with special needs, and enjoy the summer with new food adventures!
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