How to get your fussy eater child to try new food, from someone who knows (and why you shouldn't worry too much about it).

When Jessy from my facebook page said that she didn't worry too much about her fussy eater child with Asperger's Syndrome, because she had been the same way as a child, I knew I wanted to hear that story. It seems there aren't too many children with ASD who don't have some sort of issue with food, and it's one of the biggest problems of my day to day life, so I was very interested in Jessy's experience.

"I guess my number one message is for parents of fussy eaters. Don’t be too concerned. They will change themselves over time, although I haven't had experience with the most fussy of eaters - the ones who'll only eat nuggets and macaroni cheese etc - they might need some professional intervention.

I'm 35 now and was only diagnosed with Asperger’s earlier this year. I can go into pretty much any restaurant and find something I like now (well, that was before I went Gluten Free, Dairy Free that is. Now I find that I like a lot of things I can no longer have.)

As a kid I guess I was lucky. I highly suspect my Dad is also on the spectrum because for most of my childhood he ran a rotating menu of 14 meals. On Thursday I pretty much knew dinner would be either Spaghetti Bolognaise or Devilled Meatballs.

When my parents made spaghetti bolognaise Dad used to put in finely sliced capsicum and mushrooms. It was always served up to me 'as is' and I used to pick out the bits of capsicum and mushroom that I could find. I did this for years. They never commented - just let me do it.

Over time, as I grew up – I got more hungry and less bothered with all the picking out. I’d miss some bits and ended up eating them and they didn’t kill me! (despite the capsicum being soggy and the mushrooms being slimey!)

The same kind of thing happened with my other ‘fussiness’. Friday night was ‘take away’ night in our house. My parents usually had Chinese and I usually had chicken and chips from the shop next to the Chinese shop. One door over again was a McDonalds but I never asked my parents if we could go there because I’d never been there before and didn’t want to try anything new .

The people at the chicken shop knew me – my standard order was ‘Quarter Chicken hot pack, leg, no stuffing, chips (not potatoes)’ so every Friday night that’s what I would eat while smelling and watching my parents eat their Chinese food.

As I got to about 9 or 10 I started to get more hungry so that the quarter chicken hot-pack didn’t fill me up enough. I started looking for other things to fill me up so one day I was hungry enough to try just one bite of a spring roll and decided it was nice. After this, Friday night dinners became my quarter chicken hot-pack AND a spring roll (or two). As my hunger increased I added some ‘special fried rice’ to my Friday night menu.

Later on I’d have Chinese and my parents would order Thai or Indian and I would sample theirs. I got a lot braver about sampling. Now I love it when we go out to dinner and people share because I can order my favourite meal and also still get to try new things but ‘safely’.

The same kinds of things happened with pizza and gelato. As I got hungrier and could try a bit of my parents’ food, I grew to like different things.

I think my next leap forward into eating new things occurred in late high schoolwhen I finally began to understand ‘peer group pressure’. I started to eat or at least try almost anything if all my friends ate it – just to be part of the ‘in’ crowd. I started eating cheeseburgers with sauce and mustard and even pickle (which I still take off) and drinking coke! I don’t like coke and up until then I don’t think I’d even ever tasted a carbonated drink. It felt funny in my mouth and fizzed up my nose but I persisted for the sake of ‘sameness’.

As a result, I’m not so worried about my daughters ‘fussiness’ She eats carbs – bread and rice (& sometimes pasta), she eats protein (chicken, beef, lamb and eggs),  she eats vegetables (broccoli, carrot, sweet corn and cauli and sometimes peas or cucumber) and she eats fruit (apples, bananas, strawberries), so who cares if she won’t eat what someone else puts in front of her!

She won’t eat it if it’s all mixed together – or sometimes even if it’s just touching. Her pasta needs to be separate from her meat which needs to be separate from her veg mostly. She’s good with the standard ‘meat and 3 veg meals’ but not stews, casseroles, etc – where it’s all mixed up! As far as I’m concerned she eats the basics to keep her healthy so I’m not going to make a fuss … I figure her likes will expand as she gets older.

We have found two main methods to be successful in encouraging my daughter to introduce variety into her life. First, we put it on Nanna’s plate. When my daughter’s finished her own meal she starts to look at Nannas plate. If she sees something Nanna’s enjoying and she thinks might be ok – she’ll ask for a mouthful even though she had refused to have whatever it was on her plate earlier.

Second is encouraging my daughter to try new foods – and praise her for the trying, not just for the liking. We’ve decided to express praise and happiness for her bravery in TRYING. If she takes one bite and decides she doesn’t want any more then we still make a fuss of her for doing that! I figure even if she likes only 1 in 10 kinds of new food she tries, that’s still good.

To a lesser extent the whole ‘peer group pressure’ thing also already works a bit. If I give her some plain pasta and sit her next to a friend who’s having theirs with sauce she might just ask for sauce too.)

P.S. For the record - when I was on student exchange in Italy when I was 15 I didn't want to offendd I actually manage to eat clams on spaghetti and pancreas on toast!"