As we celebrate the holidays with loved ones, keep in mind that holiday meals are often very challenging and anxiety provoking for picky eaters and their parents. It is important to enter the holiday season knowing that holiday meals are not the time to make progress in trying new foods, rather it is an opportunity to maintain the skills and positive feelings about eating that have been gained in therapy.
Numerous factors can cause stress to picky eaters, and in turn their parents, during the holiday season:
Being with unfamiliar foods
Eating at different times, in different homes/places, and with different people than usual
Being served food by someone who doesn’t usually fix your child’s plate
Being around well-meaning family members who encourage and maybe push your child to eat new foods before they are ready
Here are a few suggestions that may reduce the stress of eating holiday meals if your child is at a very picky stage or new to therapy and just making gains in trying foods and building confidence about eating.
Don’t let well-intended family members push your child about eating. He or she already has enough struggles with the challenges she feels about eating. Consider having a pre-planned phrase that you can say when confronted with this scenario.
When at a holiday gathering, feed your child at a time that others aren’t eating. When it is time for the family to eat, he or she can sit with everyone and can “snack” on something that he likes. When people tell him to eat, he can say he already ate.
If you choose to try holiday foods, use the exploring strategies that your child is successful with on a daily basis. For example, licking a new food several times. Praise them for using those strategies to try new foods.
Bring familiar foods with you when going to a relative’s house. Holiday meals are not the time to expect your child to get all his intake from unfamiliar foods.
For children who have been in therapy for a while and have gained skills in exploring new foods independently or for children who are mildly picky, try these strategies for getting them to try/eat holiday foods:
A child has to be fairly confident to eat in front of a group. I recommend first trying some common holiday foods at home. Then, let your child pick a couple of similar new foods to try during holiday meals. I recommend trying the majority of holiday foods at home.
Serve very small portions-one to two teaspoons of a new food is a good amount to start with.
In new situations, offer foods that are similar to foods your child already eats. However, it is important not to expect your child will like it simply because it seems similar to a familiar food. You may need to adjust your expectations and only ask your child to tolerate a few bites, which is a huge step.
Ask your child to explore it first: smell it, lick it, put it in and take or spit it out. Do this for the first few tries so he or she can get used to the new food. Then try a “nibble size” bite to chew and swallow. It is much easier to work up to tolerating a food in small steps rather than trying to chew and swallow it on the first try.
From our Abilities Family to yours, we hope these suggestions help you have a happier holiday season!