5 strategies for feeding picky eaters over the holidays

The holidays are supposed to be a fun time for food and family, but when a child in your family has difficulty with eating or drinking, it can make the holidays rather stressful.

Pressure from family, new foods and smells, and holiday traditions that surround food can all contribute to battles for children who are picky or even “problem eaters.”

The unfamiliar foods that pop up around the holidays — take fruitcake, for example — and the many changes in routine can make things even more challenging.

Here are five ways to help your picky eater during the holidays.

1.  Talk about what to expect

Many times children do better when they are prepared and know what to expect. This can help decrease anxiety about new situations. Use social stories, books, or discussions to help prepare them, something that will be especially helpful if you are traveling.

Knowing what happens on an airplane ride, where you are going to sleep at night, and how to respond to new people will be helpful to make these transitions go more smoothly.

Related: Here’s how to reduce the Christmas season stress for kids

When general anxiety is decreased, children are more likely to do better with eating.

2.  Set expectations (and make sure they are reasonable)

Tell your child what your expectations are for them with family meals. These expectations can range from having your child sit at the table with your family during the meal, while eating an alternative meal, to having your child eat a certain amount of vegetables if they would like to have dessert. You will need to tailor these expectations for your child.

Some children may be able to complete trials of new holiday foods. Whatever you ask, be sure that it is a reasonable demand. Asking your child who currently eats purees to eat sliced turkey at your holiday meal does not set your child up for success.

Talk to your feeding therapists about what they feel is a reasonable demand.

3.  Prepare ahead

Make sure you have access to foods your child will eat. If your child won’t eat ham but will eat chicken, bring a chicken to serve your child as a source of protein. If your child is able to eat pureed foods only, be sure that you will have access to these foods. Planning ahead and knowing you have foods available will decrease the stress on you and your child.

4.  Ask about allergies

If your child is able to eat the family’s food, be sure that you let everyone preparing food know about any allergies. Your family may have a recipe that has milk, peanuts, or other allergens in it that you may not be aware of.

No one wants a trip to the ER or an experience with an EpiPen because of an unexpected exposure. However, it is important to have an EpiPen on hand incase exposure does occur.

Related: 6 strategies for managing your family’s food allergies

5.  Start new traditions

Many traditions around the holidays surround food or food activities (baking cookies.)

If your child can not participate in these activities because of sensory differences or allergies, choose a new activity to enjoy with your child. For example, try to learn holiday songs and going caroling, decorating the Christmas tree, or taking a holiday light tour.

Related: 4 Halloween tips for children with sensory disorders

Questions about your child’s nutrition? Find a doctor or dietitian near you.

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5 strategies for feeding picky eaters over the holidays