Figuring out what to feed neurodivergent kids for lunch beyond the typical sandwich, pizza or crackers is challenging. Here are two handfuls of lunch recipes for autistic children to help you simplify that process — and possibly expand their palate.
- Easy lunch recipes for autistic kids
- More Easy Recipes for Autism, Picky Eaters and Sensory Issues
Easy lunch recipes for autistic kids
The recipes in this list meet the following guidelines:
- If I wasn’t allergic, would I eat it?
- Are these lunch recipes easy to make?
- Might a single mom with three autistic kids find this easy?
When choosing the best lunch recipe for you and your autistic children, consider first your own needs, energy levels, and patience available.
If the best you can do is a homemade charcuterie board of fruit snacks, crackers, cheese and leftover pasta salad is the best you can do — good job. Executive dysfunction meals are valid.
The following list of meal ideas exists to help broaden your horizons, venture outside your normal food prep, and encourage trying new things.
No air fryer? Not a problem, if you have an Instant Pot. At max, one tortilla pizza takes 5 minutes. I’m keen make this for my three nieces under age seven. This lunch recipe would be perfect for babysitters and make-it-yourself teen snacks.
2. Mashed Potato Nuggets
Shape your leftover mashed potatoes into nugget form before they go bad. Mix them up with various add-ins. I’m going to add cheese and chives to mine.
If your autistic child is anything like me, pair these with Sweet Potato Chicken Nuggets.
I see Spaghetti O’s mentioned as a “safefood” all. the. time. in autistic spaces. It’s one of those foods we stock up on. Some autistic adults admit to buying 20 cans of them just to have them on hand.
Many children love them, too. This homemade version of Spaghetti O’s is allergen-free, gluten-free, and vegan. I will be making these when I can find my rice milk back in stock.
This sandwich is like a grilled cheese and jam toast decided to be friends. I’ve paired strawberry applesauce with cheese, turkey and crackers on an executive dysfunction charcuterie board before — cheese and sweet, pureed fruit goes well together.
Even if your autistic child hates new sensory experiences, they might love this one. I didn’t think I’d like it until I had cracker sandwiches with applesauce.
Japanese food is more than what you see in US restaurants. Their sandwiches are so different from ours. Japanese sandwiches are thicker and use better, higher-quality ingredients, like in this tamago sando.
One stark difference you might notice about the sandwiches is how there are no crusts. This is because the sandwiches are traditionally made with milk bread, or shokupan, which is baked into square loaves.
Did you notice the ingredients list is shorter, too? That’s because Japanese egg sandwiches are creamier and don’t contain a lot of the fluff American sandwiches do.
The closest American alternative to milk bread is the white bread found at grocery stores. Unfortunately, the sensory experience of milk bread is not replaceable, so replace it with the fluffiest white bread you’ve ever had.
Note: If your autistic child, or any of your children, love anime and manga, they’ve seen this sandwich at some point. That’s an in for you, which means this sandwich could totally be a major win.
This baked salmon recipe takes five minutes to prepare. The rest of the cooking time happens in the oven. Minimal chopping is involved, and you can replace the sliced almonds with pre-sliced almonds, or omit the nuts all together.
Your autistic child hates veggies? Especially if they’re green?
Well, these zucchini fritters have a toddler version. Offering veggies in a form other than the natural state (includes “plan veggies” that look like the veggies) helps introduce kids to new textures and flavors.
P.S. These mini raspberry muffins look delicious!
Total prep and cook time is 10 minutes. Unlike oven pasta bakes, where you have to prep and then wait 30-35 minutes, this one is fast to the table.
Overnight oats are nutritious and can be eaten cold or hot. They’re usually stored in mason jars, but any container will do. This banana cinnamon recipe uses up your ripe bananas, so if your autistic child won’t touch them because they’re “old”, give this recipe a try.
10. Ham and Cheese Roll-Ups
These ham and cheese roll-ups might replace Hot Pockets! If your child doesn’t like salami, replace with their favorite lunch meat of choice. You can make these in a big batch, then refrigerate or freeze and pull out for lunch when you or your child wants them.
After cooking lunch for children for 15 years, I’ve learned the more simple ones win over their stomachs the most. However, children with a diverse palate are more likely to appreciate diverse foods.
Exposing your autistic children — yes, even the sensory-avoiders — to a wide variety of flavors helps them explore their senses. Until I had my sensory-seeking cousin’s flavorful cooking, I preferred bland foods. Now, I even eat broccoli-cheddar soup — and I hate broccoli!
More Easy Recipes for Autism, Picky Eaters and Sensory Issues
10 Easy Recipes for Autistic Adults (Your child will like these recipes, too.)
8 Easy Dinner Recipes for Autistic Children (and adults)
10 Simple Breakfast Recipes for Autistic Children (and adults)
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Autism Nutrition Library – Want more help with recipes for the autistic person in your life? Check out this library of resources by a Registered Dietician (RD) and autism expert.