Everyday Learning Opportunities for Toddlers with ASD: Meal Time

Meal time is an important activity for our kiddos. Due to its regularity, it provides the perfect opportunity to enhance engagement and implement ABA therapy.

We understand what it is like to be a parent that chases their toddler around trying to get them to take “just one more bite.”  Many of our kiddos are picky eaters too and resist staying seated at a table.  

Our Recommendation:

  • Limit snacks in between meal times and provide access to their favorite foods only at the table.  

Before you begin meal time, make sure you turn off all electronics.  It is vital that you are the most interesting thing in their environment.  

Position yourself face-to-face with your child. He is less likely to make eye contact and engage if you are standing up and moving around the kitchen. Keep the majority of the food on a plate beside you and place foods on his plate after he provides some indication that he would like more. This may be VERY subtle at first (looking towards plate, small movement of body or hand towards plate, etc.). Eventually, you will work up to having him request more food with eye contact or a gesture, and finally by asking verbally.

We like to provide our kiddos with child-sized silverware and dishes right away.  This provides them with opportunities to imitate others who may be eating at the table and promotes independence.  

Throughout mealtime remember to:

1. Stay in your child’s attention spotlight (face-to-face within 3-4 feet)

2. Have fun (goofy faces, sing songs, big smiles)

3. Imitate your child’s vocalizations and actions.  Children love to see that you are interested in what they are doing. Keep in mind that it might be best for you to have your own plate of food when imitating your child’s actions during engagement. We become possessive of our food at a VERY young age!

4.  Follow the ONE-UP RULE. If your child is nonverbal label items and actions with one word (e.g. “cookie,” “yummy”) If he is reliably using one word to make requests and communicate table items and actions with two words (“two cookies” “want chicken”).

You can practice and generalize new meal-time skills by going to a friend’s house or out to eat. These are successful methods of making meal time a learning opportunity that we use here at Spectrum Autism Services and in our homes.   

Some of our go to kids dishes and silverware:



If you have any questions or additional ideas, feel free to comment below!

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