Healthy eating in childhood helps to set up good habits for life. This is especially important for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who have an increased risk for excessive weight gain, selective eating and nutrient deficiencies.
Throughout each day, children should eat from all five major food groups, which include:
Each of these food groups provides a different set of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It’s OK if your child only eats a few foods in each food group, as long as those foods are consumed on a daily basis in a balanced way. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created the My Plate educational resource to help guide you in balancing your family’s diet. Following My Plate also helps you with appropriate portion sizes based on age.
It is important to limit snacking between scheduled meals and snacks. Grazing, or eating small amounts of food throughout the day, isn’t healthy. At an identified meal or snack time, portion out the correct serving size and put it into an appropriate container, such as small bowl or baggie. Reducing grazing also means limiting access to sugar-sweetened beverages, such as juice and soda. Caloric drinks should only be offered as part of a meal. Limit juice to no more than 8 ounces a day, and avoid soda whenever possible.
Establishing healthy eating patterns for children with autism helps set them up for better health outcomes through life. If you have concerns about your child’s nutrition, speak to a registered dietitian.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.