Food and Picky Eaters with Asperger’s: Understanding, Involvement, and Support

Just like physical characteristics and personalities, we all have different taste palates. Are you a sweet-tooth person? Do you enjoy bitter or sour? Are spicy foods appetizing to you? Well, individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s have additional components that they factor in when deciding if they like a food or not.

They may have a texture component like crunchy or soft. What about a color component like only yellow foods or green foods? Food temperature can also help determine if they are willing to taste that food.

Due to the added components that have to line up before making a decision to taste a food item, the act of trying new foods can be an overwhelming event for someone with Asperger’s.

What can we do to help the process of trying and accepting new foods when working with someone with these difficulties? How can we place ourselves in their shoes and hopefully understand their view of new foods?

There are three things we are covering in this article when it comes to picky eating and those with Asperger’s: understanding, involvement, and support.

There are many factors that affect someone’s choice in foods. When working with individuals with Asperger’s we also need to think outside the box. It’s not always about staying away from vegetables or fruit. Supporting picky eaters is about understanding food, the many textures they will experience, the different methods of cooking foods, or knowledge about where food comes from.

People with Asperger’s might experience a lack of trust in new experiences and new foods. There may be a fear of lack of control of the taste which results in not wanting to try new foods. Those with Asperger’s may not have enough information on the food you want them to try.

What is it? Where did it come from? Why does it look like that? Why does it smell like that?

We need to help answer these questions and hopefully ease their overwhelming feeling. Now that we know that understanding food is important, how do we get them involved?

Involvement helps us understand things better and faster. How can we involve our kids when it comes to food? Well, let’s take it from the top. We need to purchase groceries in order to cook, right? How about having your child describe the foods they see in the produce section. What colors do they see? What textures do they see? Do they see anything familiar? Have them pick between two or three vegetables or fruits. Ask them which they would like to learn about.

Next, let’s involve them in the cooking process.

You can adjust the amount of involvement depending on their age and abilities. For younger kids you can have them wash the produce, help put groceries away, or have them interview you while you prep and cook. With older children you can have them mix, stir, cut, measure or interview you as well. Lastly, allow them the ability to explore new foods. Compare the cooked version to the raw version. Interview them on the texture, color, smell, taste, and looks of the new food. The more involvement they have with food the more comfortable they will be around it.

So, we know that our kids need to understand food in general and they need to be involved in order to learn about food. How can we support them in the process?

At one point or another we have watched a YouTube video on how to make dough or whip cream or any other cooking technique we are not familiar with. So, why not do the same with our kids? There are many cooking shows on television nowadays. Pick one and watch it together. Discuss what the chefs are doing. Competition shows are also great because of the high energy. At the table, allow them to explore their food. Ask them questions and have them critique your cooking. This will allow them to describe different tastes and smells. Have a taste test of different flavors. Make it a game and see if they can guess what they are trying.

Lastly, be patient. Tasting new foods has to come on their timeline, not ours.

Parents are here to help in the process but it is hard to set the timeline. Encourage, support, praise, and get involved in the whole process. Trying new foods can be a difficult time for kids. If we can help them understand food, get them involved, and support them, they may have an easier and positive response to the whole process. They need to have fun while learning. They need to see you involved and happy. They need to have options and opportunities for involvement. But most important, they need you. Happy cooking!

by Alfred Chavira
Wellness Services Program Director
Any Baby Can San Antonio

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6 thoughts on “Food and Picky Eaters with Asperger’s: Understanding, Involvement, and Support

  1. If I don’t like the texture of the food, I’m not eating it. Once I’d tried a lemon cake that was soft as jelly, and I love the taste, but I was completely disgusted by the texture, and I flinch when thinking about it even though it was maybe a year ago. I often choose food by its texture and clothes by how they feel to the touch.

    • We have the same problem: the child is five years old and will not eat anything except noodles. bacon, Lay’s potato chips, and french fries. We tried withholding those items and offering other foods. He went four days with nothing but water before we caved. What do we do?

      • Hi, I know this is late but maybe including recipes that have noodles in them or bacon and just slowly introducing other foods through the recipes.