Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Communication: The Social 'Nutrition' Behind Healthy Kids with Special Needs: With These Suggestions, Your Child Can Develop Healthy Practices That Become Automatic, Natural Customs to Feel a Sense of Independence, Control, and Accountability

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Communication: The Social 'Nutrition' Behind Healthy Kids with Special Needs: With These Suggestions, Your Child Can Develop Healthy Practices That Become Automatic, Natural Customs to Feel a Sense of Independence, Control, and Accountability

Article excerpt

It's a new year, and a lot of us vow to eat healthier and exercise more as we realize its importance to our well-being. However, some children with special needs may view good health and fitness as tedious, punishing tasks that are forced upon them. With the right types of communication and social interaction, you as the parent can create a new way of life with your child that has long-lasting benefits.

FOOD

Give your child the power to choose, shop for, and prepare some meals. These activities may give him or her a better understanding which could grow into a preference to eat healthy foods more often.

MY PLATE IS GREAT!

With your child, search through magazines for pictures of different food categories like vegetables, meats, and fruits. Explain the language behind more complex words like 'dairy' and 'grain' by giving common examples of them (cheese/yogurt; rice/bread, etc.). Have your child think of and find pictures of other examples. Label these food categories on different paper plates and bowls, and then glue the pictures.

WELCOME TO JOHNNY'S RESTAURANT!

Now that your child understands the names and categories of foods, with your guidance, he can create new recipes, unique food combinations and different ways to prepare foods using these ideas:

* Perhaps your child enjoys French fries but is afraid to try a baked or mashed potato, even though they are all the same food in different forms. To help your child realize how a simple potato can transform into many delicious foods, cook several potato variations with his help and broaden his tastes along the way.

* The next time you're preparing a meal, have your child join you to observe and get inspired to create her own recipes. Show her all the different ways items can be cut, and use language such as "diced / chopped / julienned / crinkle cut." Further demonstrate how foods can be cooked, such as, "grilled / boiled / baked / raw." These concepts can inspire her to spend more time with you in the kitchen and create her own recipes. Encourage her to choose a "color of the day" and pick out a healthy food to be prepared the way she prefers (e.g., "purple--eggplant--sliced and baked"; "tan--chicken--grilled").

"AISLE" DO IT MYSELF!

With your child, make a grocery list of all the food items necessary for a meal. When you both go to the supermarket, he can further use his language skills to figure out the aisle that contains what he needs (e.g., 'milk' within the 'dairy' aisle; 'chicken' within the 'meat' aisle).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

YUCK OR YUM

While preparing the food and at the dinner table, you can model positive statements to encourage your child to try different food items:

* "Mmmm ... take a whiff. This smells so delicious."

* "This soup is filled with healthy, yummy vegetables."

* "This julienned squash looks just like French fries, but I like the way these 'squash fries' taste better than French fries."

* "I didn't think I would like the taste of this turnip, but it's really terrific."

Of course, it is important to allow your child to share his opinion even if it's not positive.

TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE, JUST RIGHT!

Help your child develop accurate measures for portion control in order to eat treats like cookies, cake, chips, and candies more responsibly. With these foods, fill a side plate, saucer, or shot glass to demonstrate how much quantity that words like "few / some / a little bit" actually mean. To enjoy beverages in moderation, mark a fill-line on the outside of paper or plastic cups.

At mealtime on a divided paper dish, have your child write the food category to be filled within each meal (e.g., meat; grain) so that she can visualize the portions. For foods that can be eaten in large quantities, like healthy fruits and vegetables, give her a huge labeled plastic bowl to demonstrate the sense of endlessness. …

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