Maintaining a balanced diet is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle, but it can be difficult even for people without disabilities. For those with learning difficulties, cognitive impairments or neurodivergence, there are additional challenges, from trying to establish a regular schedule for meals to dealing with potential sensory issues. That is why life skills activities for adults with disabilities should try to teach healthy eating habits.
Why do people with disabilities have trouble with healthy eating?
There are numerous reasons why people with disabilities may struggle to maintain a healthy diet. Those who have issues with planning, time keeping and organization may not remember to buy food or allow enough time to prepare ingredients before meals. They may even forget entirely that they need to eat. Keeping regular mealtimes can be very difficult for them.
Understanding the meaning of a balanced diet presents another potential issue. Food labels and nutritional information are confusing for many people, and if you have a cognitive impairment, then navigating the different food groups and recommended daily amounts can be particularly challenging.
For other people, particularly those with autism, sensory issues can be a major barrier to eating. Smells or textures associated with certain foods, even those that are a staple part of most diets, may cause distress and render some meals inedible. Gastrointestinal problems are also common.
How can life skills activities for adults with disabilities help?
If you are teaching life skills for adults with disabilities, with the aim of helping them live more independently as well as being healthier and happier, then diet-related skills should be included. That includes menu planning, buying ingredients, food preparation and mealtime scheduling, as well as the basics of how to sit at a table and eat.
Flexible meal schedule
People are often more willing to take an interest in food when they have a positive sense of involvement in their diet. Allowing them to actively participate in the planning, choosing of ingredients and preparation of meals can help them feel more in control. It also makes it easier to avoid potential danger foods. If they vehemently refuse a certain food, it is important to find an alternative. Associating mealtimes with conflict and distress will just make it harder for them to engage with their diet more generally. Conversely, finding foods that encourage positive sensory stimulation through color, scent, flavor and texture will make healthy eating more engaging and enjoyable.
Establishing a regular schedule for meals may be easier by creating a physical chart showing times and the menu, perhaps with images or color coding to make it easier to read and remember. You can also use technology for digital reminders. Keep mealtimes consistent and menus predictable without unwelcome surprises. Many people with autism and intellectual disabilities appreciate structure and regular routines.
Planning with care
Planning and preparing meals are some of the most important life skills for adults with disabilities. By giving people with learning difficulties, cognitive impairments and neuro divergent conditions control over their own diets, and by acknowledging the specific issues they may face around certain types of food, you can help them develop the habits they need for a healthy life.