Life & Social Skills
Ages: 18 - 21
Healthy Eating and Nutrition: Finding What You Enjoy
It is common for autistic people to have limited foods they will eat. Sensory issues involving texture and smell can especially affect what you like. For example, how smooth is the food vs. chunky, how it feels on your tongue and while swallowing, size and shape. You may have strong preferences such as routines that can also influence eating.
A limited diet can result in not meeting your daily nutritional needs. Consider consulting with your doctor, a gastroenterologist or nutritionist if you don’t eat enough nutritious food or before making big dietary changes. For example do you eat enough fruit and vegetables?
If you’re having symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, belly pain or nausea it can be helpful to see a doctor to get advice and rule out gastroenterological conditions. See the GI Issues section in the Co-existing Conditions page.
If you are concerned you may have an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) provides information including warning signs and symptoms.
Food Selection and Nutrition Ideas
Think about foods you like and whether you get enough healthy choices in your diet like fruits and vegetables. You may find that you are drawn to or dislike certain textures and other sensory aspects of foods. So if you want to try new foods that you think would be healthy or of interest, think about ones that are similar in texture or potential taste to things you like.
Try something new a few different times. You may need to see what it tastes like prepared in different ways or just give it time. Our taste buds can take a few times to adapt to something new.
Planning your meals with what you know how to prepare or cook can help you with grocery shopping and not spending too much time figuring out what you will eat next. You can use a list app or note on your smartphone to continuously add to your grocery list so you’re organized. An app like Bring can be accessed by multiple people and can offer separate lists for different stores or meals.
Diplomatically share your food preferences and challenges and discuss nutrition with the people who are closest to you. Understand they may not share the same preferences. If you live with family or roommates, work with them to plan meals, prepare food and clean up based on what each of you needs. Everyone has different preferences and routines.
Before you go to a new restaurant with friends, you can look at the menu ahead of time to see what you like.
Whether you’re in school or work, plan what you’ll have for lunch or snack and whether you will bring it, buy it or get it from the school cafeteria. Your school or work may post lunch menus so you can see ahead which choices you do or do not like.
Finding What Works for You
Based on your budget and your school or work and lifestyle realities, it may look different for you.
If you need help with access to nutritious food, your local food bank, The National Hunger Hotline or other nonprofits are a free resource. The Milestones free autism Helpdesk can connect you with resources. United Way 211 serves as a central help and resource center. The national website to find your local 211 service is https://www.211.org. In Ohio it is https://www.211oh.org.
Different people have different schedules or preferences that may not mean set meal times. Work out what is realistic for you and the people you live with. Plan for what you can eat as a snack in between and at whenever the meal time is.
Do you know how to handle tasks like setting the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher, getting the ingredients together to make something and cutting up vegetables? Ask for help if you need it. If you live with someone maybe they could show you how and then watch you do it next time until you are comfortable.
For food preparation and cooking, you can find helpful videos online or cooking classes but start with something simple that you would like to eat. It’s important to learn how to make different things.
You may find it helpful to set up organized sections of your pantry that have your favorite foods or categories of foods.
If you have sensory issues with any aspects of cooking or cleaning there may be an adapted way to handle them.
Check out this Safety at Home article in the Milestones Autism Planning (MAP) Tool for tips on ensuring safety in the kitchen.
For Families Whose Love One Is More Impacted
Are there safe, unheated ways for your loved one to get themselves something to eat such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, yogurt cup, string cheese, fruit (not cut up)? You could set up a shelf in your pantry with self serve snacks or meals with visual labels. Based on your loved one’s awareness of their own hunger and when to get food, this may be helpful for you.
Use visuals for learning food preparation and related skills. The Milestones Visual Supports Tool Kit provides information and tips.