Inside you’ll find: how diet affects kids with SPD or ASD, as well as practical steps you can take to alleviate some symptoms, despite kids resistance.
My boys wouldn’t eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich because it was the “wrong” peanut butter. I caved and gave them cereal.
The rest of the afternoon was chaos as they acted like monkeys and then crashed. HARD.
Your child sees a massive lollipop… you see hours of them bouncing off the walls, usually ending in a meltdown.
Every parent has experienced the dread that comes from their kids eating junk food and the inevitable bad behavior.
Yet pinpointing the specific culprit often seems impossible. Sticking to a plan seems hopeless.
And getting a kid with sensory issues to EAT healthy food? Well that’s a whole other story!
The goal of this post is to help you understand why food really matters for your sensory kid and what small steps you can take TODAY to start working toward a healthier lifestyle. The changes will be dramatic!
Thank you to Detox Organics for sponsoring this post and helping bring awareness to a much over looked factor in sensory needs. (Don’t miss the coupon code toward the end of the post!) This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, please read my full disclosure policy here.
Remember that sensory dysfunction happens when a child’s brain over or under responds to sensory input. While there are MANY factors that contribute to that, some beyond our control, many doctors are starting to see a connection between inflammation and high sensory needs.
Think about it like this, the brain receives signals from every single inch of the body. Those signals have to travel via nerves to the brain and be interpreted. But often times, inflammation around the nerves or receptors causes those nerves to overreact or completely miss the incoming signal.
To give kids the best shot at a happy functioning sensory system, you’ll want to keep inflammation low. (Plus all the millions of other health benefits!)
But where should you start???
There are millions of diets out there. From the extremely strict to the totally bizarre. Where should you start? What will have the biggest impact on your child’s behavior and sensory needs?
I like to encourage sensory parents to start by eliminating everything artificial from their children’s diets. Other terms for this include “all natural” or “clean eating”. There are so many ingredients added to our food these days that are simply not “food”. One big culprit in kids’ behavior is artificial dyes. These chemicals add nothing beneficial while negatively affecting the brain. In fact, the EU has banned most of the dyes still used in the US or has a warning label on the foods containing them.
MSG is another ingredient that studies have proved to have a harmful effect on the brain, yet is still commonly used.
(I’m convinced for something to be labeled “edible” it simply means it doesn’t kill you immediately!)
Be sure to read ingredient lists. There are no regulation on the term “natural” and anyone can make the claim, when really they are using questionable ingredients.
Eating clean is a great way to start your healthy eating journey. It has a BIG impact on behavior without a significant change in taste or texture.
Every child has unique ways that their bodies will react to certain foods. Different things can trigger an inflammatory reaction in different kids. Not all intolerances look like a full blown allergic reaction, but often show up as digestive discomfort, skin issues, sensory issues or behavior issues.
Just keep reminding yourself, the gut and the brain are connected.
There are two typical ways of figuring out your child’s unique dietary needs.
First you could do genetic or other diagnostic testing to see how your child’s body processes specific substances.
Second, elimination diets remove all the classic allergens from your child’s diet, waiting for all symptoms to alleviate, then slowly, one by one, introducing suspected foods back into the diet to see which one triggers issues.
This works a lot better than guessing, but takes a lot of dedication. Kids usually protest to the extreme change in their eating habits. The GAPS diet is specifically designed to figure out what foods are triggering other issues. It’s extremely strict but very effective. The Whole 30 diet is another decent place to start and you’ll easily find recipes all over the internet.
Changing Habits with Sensitive Kids
Guys, changing your kids’ diet is extremely difficult, and with a sensory kid it seems nearly impossible. This is a HUGE battle in our home. This is definitely an area where I know what needs to happen but really struggle to make it happen!
We’re doing pretty well with clean eating. We’re in the process of figuring out genetic influences. But I know that food is a powerful remedy and there are so many super foods out there.
But sometimes I just can’t handle the constant complaints over healthy food.
I’ve looked into supplemental smoothies, but most have an ingredient or eight that I want to avoid. Dairy, gluten, soy, sugar, artificial junk, the list goes on of all the “no-nos” I’ve found in supposedly “healthy” drinks. I’ve literally been looking for YEARS to find a supplement that will provide all the fantastic nutrients my kids need.
Then I found Detox Organics! As their name implies, their ingredients are organic, so nothing artificial. AND there’s no dairy, soy, or sugar. Totally vegan.
Yet it’s packed with incredibly beneficial ingredients that support proper digestion, aid in detoxing, and help balance alkalizine levels in the gut.
There’s acai berry, goji berry, spinach, kale, turmeric, beets, carrots, pineapple, broccoli, spirulina, ginger, fennel, lemon balm and tons more.
And the most important thing, it tastes great. So my kids actually drink it. In fact, they usually ask for seconds!
We blend our powder with organic unsweetened coconut milk and a frozen banana. My boys call it their chocolate milk shake!
And guys, you can get 15% off this all around superfood by using the coupon code “SensoryParents“.
Nutrition plays a BIG role in sensory issues. But sensory issues can make addressing diet quite a battle.
- Start simply, by cleaning up your diet, eliminating artificial ingredients and dyes.
- Consider an elimination diet to figure out your child’s unique inflammation triggers.
- Add nutrient dense foods in appetizing ways like with this chocolate shake that has all of the good stuff and none of the bad.
- And be patient. These changes don’t have to happen overnight and there will be setbacks. Just keep striving for healthy choices.
Reading these articles are very informative but have read so many and talked to so many people about how to get him to try more things. He just keeps eliminating things. He’s down to 4 or 5 foods and they aren’t really nutritious. It kills me and the extra push to get him to eat healthy coming from everyone makes me want to break down. We have tried so many various things for meal time to be fun and try different things. He will literally starve himself for days by just doing the “they’ll eat when they want to” thing…. 😭😭😭
It’s such a vicious cycle isn’t it? I’m sorry! I’d work on variety verses “health” at this point since you’re just down to 4-5 things. Once he can handle more tastes/textures you might have more luck. Is he seeing an OT? Very important!
Full Spectrum mama says
Every day we try to do better, right?
Posts like this do help with encouragement and tips – thanks!!
Full Spectrum Mama
Love the article! I discovered the same while trying to help my son with his sensory issues many years ago. I had little support then in changing his diet, but once people saw improvement, they became believers! So important for this information to be out there to help mommas and our kiddos! ❤
Gotta go with that mama gut! So glad you saw improvement. Such an encouragement to us still in the trenches.
For the last 3 weeks I’ve cut right back on my sons sugar intake and boy what a difference! He is far more “level” and we are having less tantrums.
My next mission is to work on replacing the processed foods that he will eat by making home made fish fingers and chicken nuggets (wish me livjnwuth that!!)
I’ve found rice cakes a great snack – he was having Soreen which is a Malt loaf as I thought it was a health option but looking at the stats I realised it wasn’t so good.
I’ll get there one day!!
Yes! Great job on the positive steps! Those are sustainable and will make a difference long term! Love the idea of rice cakes. My boys like those but I always forget to get them!
So we started a whole food in capsules for a boost in our amts of whole nutrition of fruits and veggies. However, I believe the biggest benefits came once I started my sensory seeker on the plant omegas 3,5,6,7&9.
Kathleen McDaniel says
Yes, I’ve read many articles on the importance of Omega 3 and 6 for developing nervous systems. My son takes a pharmaceutical grade supplement. Children chewable multi, Fruits and veggies, chewable probiotic and Omegas. Between this, reducing sugar intake and clean eating when possible…it works! Anyone aware of a strong gluten connection with SI?
Where do you start with something like this? Just started the process and not totally sure what to do so overwhelmed by everything but my daughter is so picky and only like certain things and won’t eat a lot. Any suggestions.