Joyful traditions during the holiday season can bring a new set of challenges for children with ASD, especially those who have feeding deficits.
Gatherings that include family meals bring new flavors, smells, and tastes that can be overwhelming for a child with sensory sensitivities. Involving your child in the kitchen when making holiday dishes can be helpful in preparation for these holiday gatherings.
Cooking is a practical activity that increases your picky eater’s exposure to new ingredients in a low-pressure environment. By taking part in creating a family dish together, you and your child are not only making memories; you are building positive experiences around food. The benefits of cooking for children with limited diets are innumerable, but below are a few highlights.
New or unfamiliar foods can make children with ASD feel overwhelmed and apprehensive. Children often limit their diets as a way to feel in control of stressful eating experiences. Cooking allows children the opportunity to see exactly what goes into the dish they are making, and even to decide to leave out or add ingredients according to their preferences. It also provides children with a way to control their eating circumstances, and this can do wonders for their comfort around new foods.
I like to find recipes that include not just base ingredients but also whole ingredients/toppings that provide children the opportunity to touch, smell, and even taste what is going into their dish. Pre-made mixes do not provide this same opportunity. Making recipes that include vegetables and fruits, for example, is a great way to take part in the entire sequence of cooking: picking out the items in the produce section, creating the dish in the kitchen, and seeing it on the table.
Children with feeding deficits often have decreased confidence when it comes to eating due to repeated experiences of “disappointing” family members at mealtime. Creating a dish and watching a recipe come to life can provide children with positive food-based experiences that bring them both pride and confidence.
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The relationship between a parent and a child with feeding deficits can be stressed during mealtimes. Cooking together is a great way to spend time with one another around food while having fun creating. Unlike eating, cooking for others can be low pressure, as the primary intent in the present moment is not to eat the food but to prepare it.
Choosing the right recipes for your family
Holiday casseroles are hard for hesitant eaters; you cannot quite tell what is in them, and it is hard to predict the taste. For the best chance of success in introducing and cooking new holiday dishes, choose recipes that are straightforward, customizable, and contain at least some familiar ingredients.
Here are my favorite holiday recipes that are simple, unintimidating, and include fresh ingredients for children to explore. The dishes below double as familiar foods for your child to eat as well as festive dishes to share at a family gathering (please click on the hyperlinks to view the recipes).
- Cookie Cutter Pizzas: Each child can choose to make his/her own mini pizzas with a holiday spin
- Tea Sandwiches: A great appetizer for adults and children alike. Plus, everything is way more fun when it’s bite-sized and on a cocktail stick
- Mashtinis: Forgo the casserole and make customizable mashed potato cups. These are great with either white or sweet potatoes
- Turkey Quesadillas: Sometimes linking new foods to familiar concepts (the quesadilla) is helpful in learning to try them
- Christmas Tree Fruit Pizza: With sugar cookie as the base, this combines a familiar sweet with some new fruits to explore
This article was featured in Issue 112 – Understanding Diagnosis & Disorders