During summer vacation, your child with special needs may have gotten used to eating warm weather fare: hot dogs, nachos, chips, sodas, ice cream, etc. Obviously, most of these foods are more apt to be served at home and don't always fit into a lunch box. However, there are packaged versions of some of the warm weather foods your child may enjoy. Ice cream and freezer pops, unfortunately, are not included in that list. But s/he may take yogurt to school in a thermal lunch bag.
Packaged foods like nachos and hot dogs can be heated in the microwave at school if there is one. The following suggestions may be also be used for children with feeding tubes and other needs that have a typical diet. However, children who have specific food allergies or restrictions may have to have a modified version of the following activities. All activities may be adapted to your child's special needs. Children will severe cognitive disabilities may participate as listeners, but should be included in the process, as well.
The first thing you and your child need to do is to help your child determine favorite foods. Your child with special needs may not be able to recall his/her favorites, so provide him/her with hints by making a guessing game, showing him/her a visual hint, such as mustard if s/he like mustard on his hot dogs or a tortilla chip if s/he likes nachos. Continue to the game until you have a list of at least five or more favorite foods that your child can take to school each day.
Next, help your child make his/her plate by playing a nutrition game. Use sectional plates with at least three sections for this activity (fruits and vegetables may be placed in one section) and a cup. You may need to use one plate at a time with your child with special needs or if your child is higher functioning, you may be able to put five plates and cups on the table. Place one of the items that your child listed as a favorite food and talk about what food groups are represented by them with your child. For example, hot dogs represent bread and cereal and meat groups.
Then, talk about the other food groups and what foods need to be added to represent them. Have pictures from magazines ready to represent fruits and vegetables and other types of grains, proteins and dairy products that can be added to each plate and cup to make up a healthy meal. If your child with special needs is cognitively able to understand how each food benefits his/her body, discuss this with him/her and ask questions to determine understanding. Questions might include, "Why do you need to drink milk?" "What vitamin is in fruits like oranges?"
Once you have each plate complete, let your child help you make a shopping list by putting each food item's picture on a sheet of paper with paste or glue. You may need more than one sheet of paper. Before you go shopping, have your child help you look in the cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to see which items you may already have and cross them off the list with a big "X." Help your child draw this if s/he cannot do it on his/her own. Then plan a trip to the grocery store to shop for his/her school lunches.
Involving your child with special needs, as well as typical children, in choosing and shopping for their school lunches makes them more likely to eat their lunches, have healthy food in their lunches, and these activities will assist in the development of their cognitive skills, visualization skills, visual discrimination skills, decision-making/choice-making skills, categorizing/classification skills, sequencing skills, and fine motor skills manipulating the pictures and glues, as well as mathematics skills if you compare costs, sizes, weights, and how much is spent on lunch while shopping.
Lunch is an important of the school day. Helping your child choose and shop for his/her own lunch will make him/her look forward to lunch each day, provide him/her with foods s/he enjoys and also provide him/her with information about healthy foods and how they benefit his/her body. Starting the school year off making this part of the day stress free for children with special needs, who may have difficulty with lunch if they have not participated in the process and may feel pressure from school staff to eat, will give them a relaxed break during their school day.
MyPlate Kids' Place.Videos. What's on MyPlate? www.choosemyplate.gov/kids/VideosSongs.html