Tips And Support For Autistic Children With Eating Challenges Or Allergies 

For kids on the autism spectrum, picky eating and other food-related challenges can be common occurrences, with research indicating as many as 46-89% of children with ASD experience food selectivity. Additionally, studies suggest a link between ASD and an increased risk of food allergies, further limiting the foods some children can safely eat.

Whether the root of your child’s eating challenges lie in hypersensitivity to certain textures or the stress surrounding routine changes, all parents want is to ensure that their kids remain happy and healthy. For families or mothers that may be struggling during mealtimes, here’s a collection of simple and actionable tips for autistic children with eating challenges or allergies.

Rule out health issues

Rule out health issues

First and foremost, it’s important that parents take the time to rule out any potential physical health issues that may be contributing to their child’s food sensitivity. It’s not uncommon for kids with autism to experience gastrointestinal problems, allergies or dental issues like cavities or gum disease and depending on the child’s age and ASD diagnosis, these problems may be difficult for them to vocalize.

Keeping regular appointments with your child’s pediatrician will help to ensure that any potential health issues are caught early and appropriately treated, as well as contribute to teaching your child that doctor’s visits are a normal and safe part of their wider routine. If you’re unsure of whether your child is showing signs of a food allergy or gastrointestinal distress, look out for these key symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Skin irritation / swelling
  • Slow weight gain or growth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn)

Develop mealtime routines

Develop mealtime routines

Developing regular routines and mealtime patterns can help to alleviate some of your child’s stresses by showing them what they should be doing. All children are predisposed to learn by copying others, but environmental cues can be particularly helpful when teaching kids with autism.

By removing distractions like TVs, sensory toys and other stimulating activities, parents are able to create a structured and comfortable mealtime routine that their child can safely process. Make sure to set clear and easily understood expectations, such as how long you expect your child to remain seated and how much they’re expected to eat, as structure can help to reduce anxiety..

If your child is struggling to stick to a mealtime routine, try starting small by having them sit at the dining table with no distractions for a minute or two. Reward achieving this milestone with praise and gradually increase the amount of time they should stay seated until the routine becomes regular.

Ease into new foods

Kids with autism will often find sudden change to be distressing, so it can be difficult for them to become comfortable with completely new foods right away. When trying to expand your child’s diet, start by introducing new foods that are similar in texture, smell and color to those they already enjoy.

According to leading plant-based food company Safe + Fair, if your child enjoys crunchy textures but struggles with strong flavors, try introducing them to additive-free snacks. If they’re comfortable with this texture, you can gradually introduce new flavors and similarly textured foods to slowly expand their palate.

You can also try presenting new foods alongside dishes they’re already comfortable with. If your child enjoys carrots but won’t try similar snacks like celery or parsnips, put some of these new foods next to their plate at dinner time. Allow your child to smell, touch or taste each new dish at their own pace and tell them that they don’t have to eat them if they don’t want to. Forming a clear connection between new and old foods in this way can help to slowly and comfortably expose children to dietary changes.

Encourage food exploration

Encourage food exploration

A great way to calm anxieties surrounding new foods is to allow your child to interact with new dishes using all their senses. By engaging in play relating to new foods, children will gradually become more comfortable with each item as they begin to understand and explore new smells, colors and textures.

Encourage your child to smell, feel and interact with new foods without pressure, perhaps by cutting out shapes with a cookie cutter or by simply talking about how each new food item feels, but make sure that they feel no expectation to eat each dish immediately.

Divert attention from behavior


It’s important to remember that many children with autism learn to avoid family mealtimes through challenging behavior. Though it’s sometimes hard in practice, trying to ignore or divert attention from these behaviors will assist in alleviating food-based anxieties.

Try to distract children from negative behavior by engaging with them through conversations about their food and letting them listen to their favorite music. By teaching children to associate learning and stimulation with mealtimes, many sources of food-based anxieties can be addressed in a comfortable, safe and educational manner.

Try asking questions like:

  • What sound does this food make?
  • Does this food have a strong or weak smell?
  • Is this food wet or dry?
  • What other foods are this color?


For some kids with autism, mealtimes can be a source of unwanted anxiety, but by creating a clear routine and engaging in food-based play parents can help to alleviate some stresses.

Remember to keep regular appointments with your doctor to watch out for potential health issues and stick to additive and allergen-free snacks when trying new foods, but most of all make sure that your children can approach mealtimes with clear expectations and structure to promote a comfortable and safe environment.