Kids with Feeding Issues: 10 Tips to Survive Holiday Family DinnersDec 20, 2023
Holidays are a time to celebrate, gather, laugh, talk, and share. Eating and food are central to the human experience - food is so much more that calories and nutrition, it’s about giving and receiving love and sharing our culture and traditions. When a person is grieving, we bring food. When we want to meet a new neighbour, we bring food. When we are going to a celebration, we bring food.
"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." - James Beard
Yes, food is universal to the human experience, but when a child has feeding difficulties like extreme picky eating, feeding delays, or food aversion, holiday meals and celebrations can be extremely stressful and overwhelming for both the child and caregivers. 'Tis the season of giving! I've included several free resources at the end of this blog.
Consider the child's experience at holiday meals:
The combination of unfamiliar foods in a new environment, paired with pressure to eat can be very overwhelming. For kids with Autism and/or Sensory Processing Disorder holiday meals can lead to sensory overload.
Consider the parents' experience at holiday meals:
The fear that their child won’t eat coupled with facing judgement from friends and family can lead to an extremely stressful and emotional situation for parents.
Parents express to me that they often dread mealtimes with extended family because grandparents, aunts/uncles, and friends pressure their child to eat. These parents have worked hard in feeding therapy to learn to create fun, positive, low-pressure family meals. At holiday gatherings they find themselves faced with family members that are interfering and trying strategies that parents know will create anxiety and won't help their child with food acceptance.
"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt
Parents also confess that they dread going to a friend’s or sibling's house over the holidays because it makes them sad to see the other children eating so easily and so well. They feel ashamed when they have to bring food from home or their child is not able to self-feed.
Parents say that they feel watched and judged by others…that friends and family never fail to offer unsolicited advice about how to get their child to eat better. This undermines their ability to parent.
10 Holiday Survival Tips for Parents of Kids with Feeding Difficulties:
- Feed your child before the event in case they don’t eat well at the party.
- Let the host know in advance that you child has feeding challenges.
- Ask the host to please have something available that your child is able to eat (e.g., bread, crackers).
- Bring a "safe food" from home that you know your child can eat and enjoy.
- Prepare your child by talking about the event and which foods will be available.
- Have a firm but polite response ready for those who comment on what or how much your child is eating. For example, "Eating in unfamiliar places is hard for her.", "We are working with an expert to help her listen to her own body and have a positive eating experience."
- Remind yourself that you're doing a great job.
- Let go…try not to let it get to you. No-one knows your child like you do. You are the expert on your child.
- These are your holidays too. Breathe and allow yourself to enjoy them.
- If you are hosting, encourage your child to help with food preparation and serving.
10 Tips When Hosting a Child with Feeding Difficulties:
- Practice kindness, understanding, and non-judgment.
- Ask your guests about the types of foods their child is comfortable eating.
- Consider a buffet, where the guests can choose their own foods.
- Welcome your guests to bring a safe food from home for their child.
- Give some of the kids “helping jobs” like serving food to others.
- Avoid judgement or comments about the child’s eating difficulties.
- Don’t take it personally if the child doesn’t eat anything at all.
- Remember not to give any advice.
- Avoid pressuring the child to eat or “try” foods that others are eating.
- Enjoy the mealtime together. Share laughter, food, and conversation.
I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season. Give yourself a break...I suggest lowering your expectations about your child's eating and feeding progress during the holidays. It's a busy, hectic, and often emotional time of year for everyone. Kids and families are out of their regular routine. Be kind to yourself and take a breather. Celebrate and spend time with your friends and family. In the New Year you can get back to working on all of the great strategies you were using to help your child learn to be a more Adventurous Eater. Try not to let anyone steal your joy. You are doing a great job. Keep Calm and Merry On!
Need feeding help? Check out these free resources below:
Sharing tips, research, and advice on feeding.