What a wonderful time of the year! With shopping, presents, and small gatherings, it is a time people look forward to all year. But if your child is one of the many picky eaters out there, the level of stress that you may be feeling over upcoming family meals or gatherings can be overwhelming.
What will my toddler be able to eat? What kind of snide comments will I hear from family members if she only eats mac and cheese? Will Grandma make me feel awful if she sees my son still drinking from a bottle? Will my child be cranky and starving if he does not get his usual foods and makes the whole day miserable? What if my friends think I am a bad parent because my daughter will not try things? Does anyone know how stressful having a picky eater is on the family, especially during the holidays?
Below are helpful tips from a feeding professional that you can use so you and your family (including your hesitant eater) can attend functions with more holiday cheer and less bah-humbug.
- Get things out in the open!
Let your family know what is going on and prepare easy explanations beforehand. Let your loved ones know that your child is receiving intervention and educate them. Find some examples below:
- “Layla is sensitive to certain smells and textures. She used to not even be able to be present when I was cooking, but she has come a long way! She is now able to eat things that made her throw up before. We work through these things in therapy.”
- “Joey’s tongue doesn’t always move the food to the sides of his mouth to chew properly. This makes things that should be easy to eat hard for him.”
- Have some stock responses for well-meaning relatives who enjoy giving advice. A simple “Thanks, we got this” or “No, he won’t just eat if he is hungry enough” may do the trick.
- Talk it out.
Talk to your child about your expectations. Will this be a “free” day? Will they need to try a portion of dinner before preferred foods? What is the expectation for sitting at the table? Planning things out before the event can alleviate issues during dinner. Preparation and communication are key.
- Ginger and vanilla and nutmeg, oh my!
Holiday dinner smells are wonderful to us but may be overwhelming to our sensitive eaters! Prepare accordingly and prep your child that there may be smells they are sensitive to that you have no control over. You can practice and expose them to smells at your own house beforehand. This may avoid any shocking meltdowns upon arrival.
- Prep the head chef.
Simply let the host know what is going on. This may avoid any awkward in-person situations. You will eliminate the feeling that you are offending anyone if your child refuses to eat anything that is being served.
- Holiday time does not equal a therapy session.
Remember, this is one meal! You get all week to practice in therapy. If having noodles during holiday dinner and skipping the veggies keeps the peace, let it be.
- Fill up the tank.
Consider feeding your child before showing up. That way, you know he gets what he needs, and it avoids any off-putting questions from people asking about his feeding habits. Besides, if there are other kids running around, nobody will even notice he isn’t taking part in the food part of the day anyways.
- Get into giving!
Volunteer to bring something to share that your child loves to eat. This way, you know there is at least something he will devour that you are not pulling out separately just for him. By doing this, your child eats what he knows without anxiety, and as a bonus, you have contributed to the party. Even more, you are not drawing extra attention to his feeding behaviors. Win-win!
- Breathe and give YOURSELF a break. It is your holiday, too!
We all want our holidays to be perfect. Sometimes, when we have gatherings, family, advice, AND a picky eater, it feels impossible. But remember, you spend every day improving your child’s eating habits. It is okay to make this day special yet peaceful by implementing some strategies and simply enjoying it!
By Kelly Komisaruk, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Kelly is a feeding specialist and founder of pickyeatersonline.com, treating children with feeding disorders in Lake Nona. If you would like to ask her any questions regarding your child’s feeding concerns, email her at email@example.com, and she will answer your questions in upcoming articles!