Tips to stop the fussy but increase the eating

By Angelina Josevska, 9 August 2016 , Comments

Are you the parent of a child who often eats a particular food for a while, then stops eating it completely? Does your child refuse to eat a variety of foods, like fruits and vegetables? Is your child only willing to eat one particular type of food, like white foods?

Children who are on the autism spectrum often find meal times challenging and speech pathologists are well equipped to support families and children who want to make meal more times more enjoyable.

To celebrate Speech Pathology Awareness Week, Northcott’s Speech Pathologists thought we’d give you some tips to make meal times more enjoyable.

1. Check for underlying problems

Your child might have difficulties with the skill of chewing or swallowing, therefore they might cough or choke while eating or drinking.They might have food allergies or intolerances. Gastro-oesophageal reflux is another common medical condition that can cause feeding problems. It’s a good idea to chat to your child’s GP to discuss these or any other issues that might make meal times difficult and less enjoyable.

2. Make sure your child has good posture while eating

Having stable posture while eating:

  • Helps the brain to focus on the task of eating
  • Supports respiratory function
  • Allows the jaw to move more freely so chewing is easier
  • Leads to better hand-to-mouth coordination and fine motor skills when handling food

3. Model good eating behaviour

  • Put on your really happy face and eat what your child is eating! This shows them that the food is safe and yummy
  • Describe the sensory properties of the good (how does it look, taste, smell, feel or sound?)
  • Use simple language to build up your child’s vocabulary around mealtimes, which can increase their ability to ask for or refuse foods. This will help to reduce their frustrations
  • Exaggerate the correct motor movements that go along with eating (like scooping food with a spoon and putting it in your mouth)
  • Allow your child to play with and explore food. Don’t be afraid to get messy!
  • Make the food fun, be creative (make a smiley face out of a plate of fruit), and make eating a positive and fun experience

4. Structure meal and snack times

  • Establish the same place for each meal
  • Create a routine (chose a similar time of day to have meals and determine who sits where at the dining table)
  • Use a visual timetable to indicate when a meal will occur during their day, or to help them with setting the table
  • Display the food as consistently as possible. This makes the meal more predictable
  • Have one preferred food at every meal

5. A few things to avoid…

  • Never skip meals to make your child hungry
  • Never delay a meal to make them hungrier
  • Don’t let your child snack in order to get them to eat because they inherently need to feel hungry in order to eat. Grazing prevents them from feeling hunger and having the desire to eat

6. Keep trying!

Sometimes it can take 30 or more attempts before a child feels comfortable trying a new food.

A picture of family having an enjoyable meal time

If you would like more support to make meal times more enjoyable you can call Northcott’s Therapy team on 1800 818 286, or email


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