Kids on the Spectrum & the French Canteen


On my recent visit to France I caught up with the team from IME (Institut Medico-Educatif), a school for children with special needs. I wanted to see how children on the spectrum who I saw last year are progressing with mealtimes.

The children are mostly non-verbal. They have severe learning disabilities as well.

A qualified chef prepares all meals at the school with fresh produce, a rare treat these days in collective catering. Meals are provided free of charge to the families.

In this piece, I want to share with you what kids on the spectrum can eat in a different culture, so I journaled what is on offer. For five days, I had lunch next to Adrien (not his real name), a 9yo boy, whom I have been following since last year. His progress has been impressive and I think you will be surprised by what he can eat in 2019. There is a set menu on offer, it has a starter and a main (meat, carbs and vegs, there is bread and a final course of cheese and fruit or dessert). The children seem to know the pictograms that match the menu, Therefore if they are keen to eat meat casserole, they place the pictogram on their folder, next to the word ‘I want’. As you will see Adrien adds a few extra pictograms. It’s OK to try…but the menu does not change.

Last year

Last year, Adrien, was a small, quiet child, who had started to attend school a year before. He found it difficult to sit down for meals. He had come to the school as a very selective, resistant eater (with 3 or 4 tolerated foods). Since he had shown a liking for grated cheese, it was sprinkled on each dish to help him transition to new foods. He had done so quite successfully and progressed from eating biscuits, cookies, pasta and sweet flavoured milk to eating meat and potatoes.

This year

Adrien eats a lot more variety including vegetables and fruit. He has a good appetite overall and shows signs of satiety as well as pleasure of eating it seems. Grated cheese isn’t used anymore. Sometimes Adrien expresses different choices or desires through the pictograms. Menus, however, are not altered, there is no obligation to eat anything, the food is traditional and Adrien is able to eat something each day. Overall his food intake is quite varied. Here you can see for yourself the meals that were served and how Adrien went each day that I was there.

Adrien comes to the table and eats quietly, he does not eat the starter. He uses his pictogram to ask for pasta. He has crumbed turkey fillet, pasta and apple, as well as bread.

Adrien eats none of the starter. He however happily eats fish panfried in garlic and butter, with creamy fennel and carrots. He has some fresh peach for desert. He seems to enjoy his food.

Today there is some trouble ahead, Adrien’s parents have reported that he did not sleep the night before, so he’s very tired and cranky. It turns out that on the menu there is goat cheese on toast. The offer does not go down very well. Adrien has a complete meltdown. He pushes his tongue against his palate and screams, which is very impressive. He pushes the plate away. He uses his pictograms to ask for biscuits and tries to move the cheese to the bin. However, he is warned that this is not acceptable. After some back and forth he has to leave the room. A while later he quietens down and comes back in. The cheese is still here but this time he is OK about it. The other kids are having deserts by now. He uses his pictograms to request a portion of pineapple and whipped cream topped with almonds and seems to enjoy it very much. He would like more cream, which there isn’t any more of. He requests a serving of the casserole dish (beef, carrots peas, green beans and potatoes) and eats to satiety. All is well now. The meltdown is blamed on fatigue.

Today Adrien is well rested and happy to eat pan-fried veal scallop with jus, as well as green beans and butter beans in tomato sauce. He eats some apple for dessert as well as Camembert and bread.

Today Adrien is not having any surimi. He is requesting cauliflower, which is steamed with carrots and served with minced meat. Adrien eats with gusto and requests more of his main dish. He then has bread and creamy cheese spread to finish his meal.

It is extraordinary to witness Adrien’s progress in a year. Needless to say, there is a dedicated team behind this success. There is also some Government money to support mealtimes as an important part of children’s education and wellbeing. It works and alleviates the pressure on parents to do everything by themselves, feeding kids on the spectrum can be challenging indeed.

Does your child’s school provide varied meals like this? Do you believe such progress is possible for your child? Here you can read more about how to help your child eat more variety. You can also have me come to you and help you reboot your child’s eating. Make my family fussy eater free