Not Just Picky Eaters – Autism, Samefoods, and Bland Foods

As we get into the holiday season, I want to talk about autistic eating habits.  Many of us, especially as children, get written off as “picky eaters” (George Carlin’s “Fussy Eater” routine comes to mind), but there are reasons for the way we eat and our limited palates.  Before all the family gatherings and big holiday meals, here’s what you need to know about food aversions, samefoods, and bland foods.

Why Are We Picky?

Ok, first of all, autistic people are not just “picky eaters”.  A picky eater is my ex who, in his late thirties, consistently refused to eat anything green because it was “rabbit food”.  That’s not what we do. 

Still, most parents of autistic kids are familiar with the struggle of getting an autistic child to eat more than a few foods.  Some of us don’t grow out of that, even though often our palates do expand a bit with age.  Have you ever stopped to ask why autistic people struggle with food, though?

Consider all the sensory aversions that can come into play regarding food.  There are temperature issues, texture problems, and flavors to contend with.  Because we experience our sensory input so intensely, any of these can send us over the edge. 

While temperature is pretty easily overcome – just let it cool off or warm it up a bit – texture is a major challenge for autistic people of all ages.  Crunchy onions are a big turnoff for me, even as I appreciate the flavor in soups or other dishes (if I can’t tell they’re in there, no problem).  Some people can’t eat squishy, slimy things, others can only tolerate certain foods either fresh or cooked, not both ways – I find this tends to apply to vegetables in particular.  Dry meat can make one’s whole mouth uncomfortable, or overly moist meat can feel undercooked and weird.  Rare steak or roast beef makes me gag, no matter how good the flavor is. 

When it comes to flavors, remember that our intense sensory experience means that many autistic people are supertasters.  And this can manifest differently in different people.  For example, I can’t stand anything that comes within ten feet of being burnt.  Like to the point that I actually prefer most foods just barely done or even a hair underdone.  I can taste “overdone” before anyone I know and I called it “burned” until I was an adult and learned that there was another word I could use.  However, I grew up with someone who wants everything well done and can’t stand any food with any flavor or spice to it at all because everything is “too spicy” for her.  Yes, it was awkward growing up in the same house.

Like I said, for many of us, our palates expand as we grow up, but we do tend to stay somewhat restricted in our diets.  We’ll generally eat the same thing at restaurants and have a list of foods and/or meals that we rotate through regularly because foods we know are a guarantee that we will eat.


“Samefood” is a term I didn’t know until I found the Autistic community, but I was always familiar with the concept.  Samefoods are those foods that we eat over and over, our go-to meals and snacks that we always love and that we will always eat. 

For me, that’s popcorn, salt and vinegar potato chips, pasta with tomato and basil sauce, jambalaya, and my homemade potato and leek soup, among others.  For other people, it may be steak, carrots, bacon, chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, apples, mashed potatoes, or fish sticks.  Really, it could be anything. 

We may insist on specific brands or preparations of our samefoods because others just don’t taste right to us.  My friends’ autistic daughter insists that her chicken nuggets be microwaved because when baked, they don’t taste like the ones she eats at school.  I understand where she’s coming from with that, but I hope that she grows out of that because microwaved chicken is gross.  I always buy the same popcorn because my brand is just salty enough without getting overpowering, and I only eat certain varieties of apples because Galas and Fujis are just better than Red Delicious (you can’t change my mind on that).   

Samefoods get a bad rap among parents of autistic kids because they make mealtimes difficult, but we like our samefoods for a reason: things that are the same mean no stress for us!  When we go for a food that we know, we don’t have to worry about a weird texture or unexpected flavor.  We don’t have to think about whether or not we’ll be able to swallow each bite or if we’ll have to drown each mouthful with a drink to wash it down.  Sometimes we can’t choke down certain foods, no matter how hungry we might be, so samefoods are a safe option for us. 

So, for all those holiday meals and gatherings, have some samefoods on hand, just to make sure you or your autistic loved ones eat.  Everyone will be happier.

Bland Foods

For some autistic people, bland foods are the best.  Remember what I said about many of us being supertasters?  Sometimes, the cure for that is plain, simple flavors. 

Most of the time, my love of bland foods is limited to my slightly-salted popcorn or artisan bread with butter.  But when I’m feeling less than my best due to a migraine or a fibro flare, nothing beats plain white rice with butter and salt.  It may sound weird to you, but I cannot adequately express how perfect it tastes when I’m not up to handling bigger, more complex flavors like proteins or vegetables. 

Many autistic people prefer simple foods like plain pasta, unbuttered toast, barely-seasoned chicken, etc. because bland food won’t overwhelm their sense of taste.  For them, dishes with layers of flavor or lots of seasoning like curries, stews, or complex sauces are too much to handle.  Richness, spice, sweetness, or just too many flavors at once can be difficult to process, which will then interfere with their ability to enjoy their food or, possibly, to eat it at all.

Please understand that this is just as inconvenient for an autistic adult as it is for any parents of autistic kids.  It makes parties and dinners and going out just as stressful, if not more so – as adults, we’re aware of how odd we appear to others and we’ve been through enough episodes of shaming that we panic over the possibility of “causing a scene” (even if that’s just ordering a hamburger plain or something like that – people will ridicule others for a lot of things).  We might be so afraid of the potential consequences that we stay away from eating around people altogether. 

Choosing foods that we know we will be able to eat without our senses getting overwhelmed is a way for autistic kids and adults to manage our stress and keep ourselves on an even keel.  It takes extra time, requires planning and thinking ahead, but it’s worth it.  And if there are concerns about not getting proper nutrition, there are meal replacements and vitamins for that.

A table laid with foods including bread, berries, grapes, salad, jam, and more.  Blue and white text on a purple background reads "Not just picky eaters - autism, samefoods, and bland foods"

What are your favorite samefoods?  I can’t handle avocados, asparagus, or eggs – which foods, textures, flavors can you just NOT stand?  How do you work around food aversions for holiday meals and parties?  Eat before you go, bring some of your own favorites?  Have you become open to more foods as you grew up?

If you found this article helpful or you like what I do here, you can support this blog on Patreon or buy me a coffee.


  1. willaful

    May 25, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    My daughter would occasionally sample another type of apple, but since the pandemic, I don’t even try — gala all the way!
    (No one actually likes red delicious, do they?!)

    1. Grace

      May 25, 2021 at 5:09 pm

      In my experience, no, nobody actually likes red delicious apples. Personally, I love Gala and Fuji. But Golden Delicious for baking works better than Granny Smith, those things get really tart!

  2. Ferdia

    September 23, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    This was very interesting. I would say that generally my samefoods tend to be bland and starchy (white rice and butter, bread and butter, pasta and butter, and Kraft macaroni cheese -box- not the microwave stuff. When I am less stressed, I do like spicy food or more flavors, but it can’t be too much. When I was a kid though, for a while, I was always adding chili powder and ate ground beef, tomato sauce and chili power as much as I could.

    1. Grace

      September 24, 2021 at 12:24 am

      White rice with butter and salt is my favorite go-to when I need a bland food! I’m totally with you on that!

    2. Trinity

      October 13, 2021 at 10:49 pm

      I’m 14 and recently discovered I’m autistic! My samefoods are bland potatoes (in any form- baked, fried, mashed, you name it!), flaky biscuits with apple jam & butter, marshmallows, green pea harvest snacks, fried chicken, and veggie fried rice (no eggs or I’m gonna cry!!). I’ve gotten more open to vegetables, beans, and fish, but I’m beginning to dislike red meat! Something about it turns me off. I can’t stand eating dried meat (like beef jerky) , it’s horrible. I love crunchy/slightly burnt foods (chicken that’s a bit burnt off the grill is amazing!). If I go somewhere, I’m likely going to eat something before I go, or at least pack a little snack (green pea chips are my go-to). And btw, I like red delicious apples since their skin feels good to chew imo.

      1. Grace

        October 13, 2021 at 10:59 pm

        I stand corrected – some people do like red delicious apples!
        And potatoes are good in any form, always.

  3. Crow

    November 17, 2021 at 12:08 am

    Hi! Thank you so much for writing out this article, I’m planning on sending it to some of my family in the hopes it’ll help me better explain and them to better understand that I’m really not just being picky- I genuinely just can’t manage to choke down certain foods! I have almost the exact same taste as well- I can’t stand the texture of onions even though I love the taste, and both overly moist and dry meat, as well as avocados, are inedible for me. I also had migraines, especially when I was younger, that were made worse by the sensory input of flavorful food, but otherwise don’t have a problem with intense flavors. Thankfully, my grandmother is a wonderful cook- and the designated chef for holidays- and she’s always been happy to oblige my odd tastes even when the rest of my family thought I was being “spoiled.” I’ll also being taking the tip you gave someone else about using golden delicious apples for baking apple pies, reds and greens have never tasted quite right in them to me!

    1. Grace

      November 17, 2021 at 6:08 am

      I hope this helps your family understand! Not only that you’re not “just being picky” but also that you’re not doing it on purpose.

      1. Crow

        November 17, 2021 at 1:19 pm

        Thank you, I hope so too!

  4. Eldritch Cat possum

    November 2, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    So I’m autistic but I’m one those people that is sensory seeking when it comes to food. I love trying new things and sometimes I give things I thought I didn’t like a second chance (which is how I ended up liking mushrooms). However, I freakin’ hate olives they taste so much like olives, I can’t deal. I also dislike black radishes, and most bitter flavors. Oh and liver which is ok cuz my cat loves it. So I give it to him!

Leave a Reply