How To Improve Healthy Eating Habits For Special Needs Children

Written by Tricia Au


After understanding the types of nutritional challenges special needs children face and the foundational nutrients needed for holistic development, we can focus on the approach and techniques that can be implemented to improve your child’s eating habits. Here are some methods that you can apply when planning for you child’s healthy eating journey.


Introducing new food


You can introduce the new food using this method:


Food chaining

Food chaining refers to changing different methods of preparing the same food. , the type of food and frequency of the food served has to be regular. For instance, serve the food for several times in meals and for several days. It can be done up to 15-25 times.

An example of a food chaining approach is if you want your child to move on to a healthier option instead of store bought fried nuggets, try making homemade nuggets. From there, you can move on to making other food that is shaped like a nugget. You can also consider baking the nuggets and then slowly incorporating vegetables like carrots, potatoes and corn into the nuggets. Gradually you can be creative with the ingredients, texture, cooking style etc.

Introduce the food one step at a time, when your child has come to terms with the food itself then you can start incorporating different ingredients and methods of cooking with the same food.


How to help your child enjoy new food


  • Changes should be implemented gradually according to your child’s pace.

  • Consistency is the key when it comes to meal times.

  • Using the same utensils or plates gives your child a sense of comfort.

  • Setting expectations for your child by having meal times at the same time and place.

  • Steer clear of giving your child a variety of food options or extra food.

  • If your child habitually goes for seconds, you can prepare a smaller first portion with more vegetables first.

  • Introduce your child with the new food along with food that you know they like.

  • Allow your child to participate in buying groceries as well as meal preparation.

  • Place a specific time frame (30/40 minutes) for meals and snacks.

  • Offer raw vegetables or fruits as it is more filling

  • Avoid the habit of having snacks in front of the television, in the car and when the child is walking around.


Exposure to different food


Expose your child to new foods in a similar variety of foods that you know your child enjoys. From there, slowly introduce changes. For instance, if your child prefers french fries, but is reluctant to try sweet potato fries:

  • First, offer french fries that are baked.

  • Then, offer french fries that are cut differently. (slightly thicker cuts/ wedges)

  • Finally, offer french fries made of sweet potato.

  • Bear in mind that the child would need time to adjust to these new arrangements so allow your child to progress at their own pace and ensure that the goals set are achievable.


Collaboration between parents and teachers


Ask your child’s teacher for help

  • Discuss with your child’s teacher and set a goal for your child. A collaboration between the school and parents can be done by having the school offer the new food during snack/lunch time, and parents can continue that practice by offering the child that food at home as well.

  • When reinforcing your child, make sure to avoid using food as a means to praise your child. By reinforcing with food, the child will learn to appreciate this food but not other type of food.


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