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Game Lets Children Make Healthy Food Choices

For many families with children who have autism, mealtimes can be a challenge. But a new book aims to take the surprise out of mealtimes for children with autism and put healthy choices on their plates.

THE EATING GAME (Get Awesome Meals Every day) is a system where children take control of what they eat. A colour-coded chart is placed on the family's fridge, where each of the four Canada Food Guide groups are assigned a colour. The children then select a food card to match each section of the chart. This ensures that the child's nutritional needs are met through the day.

The author, Jean Nicol, created the game after a family friend complained about their 7-year-old son Ethan's lack of interest in food. Ethan, who has autism, would only eat either hotdogs or rice.

Jean, who was a home economics and elementary school teacher for 32 years, knew from her experience working with children with autism that many of these children have significant issues with food choices and eating habits. She recognized that some of the problems may be due to sensory issues, such as taste, smell and texture.

"Many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have varying degrees of difficulty with communication and social skills," says Jean. "They are also, for the most part, facing unpredictable environments. For many with ASD, structure, routine and predictability allow them to make better choices, be successful and be more in control in their environments."

But with family mealtimes, the parent or caregiver generally makes the choices and prepares the meals. Unless the child is hanging around in the kitchen, watching or helping with meal preparation, for most, meals are a surprise until they sit down to eat. This is not the best situation for a child with autism.

What often happens, Jean says, is that they choose to eat a selected few foods repeatedly. The parent is happy that they are eating something and complies by presenting the favoured foods repeatedly.

Jean's challenge was to find ways to help children with autism to be more involved in making healthy food choices ahead of time, so that meals would be more predictable.

The first day they used the game with Ethan, he chose hotdogs and rice for breakfast. However, he soon learned that if he used those foods up, he wouldn't be able to eat them again that day. "All of a sudden, he was making the choices," says Jean.

Now, 10 months later, Ethan is now eating regular, healthy meals and snacks. He eats about 50 more foods than he did when he first started using the game.

The game would work well for children as young as two years old. It would also work well with those who do not have autism, but also have issues with eating. The book has been used in group homes, and Jean is also looking to adapt the book for seniors.

The daily planning charts, food pictures and their storage pages are on durable laminated card stock. The book is $49.85, plus applicable provincial sales tax and shipping. For more information about THE EATING GAME, or to order a book, please e-mail Jean Nicol at

ACT posts news reports and other sources on this website for the information of our readers only. ACT neither endorses nor condemns this material. We urge readers to consider this information with a critical eye and to form their own opinions about its validity or applicability to their situation.

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