We hope that Thanksgiving, and holiday get togethers in general, are a source of food and fun. But for some kids, holiday meal times may feel more like food and fuss, especially for kids that are picky eaters.
Occupational therapists understand that mealtimes can be a challenging experience for parents of picky eaters. The holiday season, with its special meals and gatherings, can add an extra layer of stress when it comes to food.
In this article, you’ll find some practical tips to make mealtimes during holiday gatherings more positive for both you and your picky eater! So come on over and join me at the table to learn some of my favorite sensory and feeding therapy tips.
7 Tips for Happier Holiday Meals With a Picky Eater
Pro Tip 1: Include Familiar Foods on the Table
One effective strategy to ease tension during holiday mealtimes is to ensure there are familiar foods on the table. Even if it means including mac ‘n’ cheese from a box, having a reliable option can provide comfort to your picky eater. This familiarity can act as a safety net, making the mealtime experience less intimidating.
Pro Tip 2: Bring Your Child’s Food
If you’re attending holiday gatherings at a relative’s house, consider bringing your child’s preferred foods with you. This proactive approach ensures that your child has options they are comfortable with, reducing mealtime anxiety. It’s essential to communicate this plan with your relatives in advance to avoid any well-intentioned but potentially stressful attempts to introduce new foods.
Pro Tip 3: Involve Your Child in Food Preparation
Engaging your child in the process of preparing holiday dishes can be a fantastic way to make foods less intimidating. Allow them to assist with age-appropriate tasks, such as mixing ingredients or setting the table. This hands-on involvement can pique their curiosity and encourage them to be more open to trying new foods, making the mealtime experience more enjoyable for everyone.
Pro Tip 4: Communicate the Plan and Foster Positivity
Clear communication is key to a successful holiday mealtime with a picky eater. Inform your child about the menu and let them know that there will be foods they like on the table. Emphasize that trying something new would be wonderful but not mandatory. Additionally, ensure that relatives are aware of your child’s preferences and the importance of not pressuring or coercing them to eat unfamiliar foods.
Pro Tip 5: Encourage Exploration, But Respect Boundaries
While it’s great to encourage your child to taste something new, it’s equally important to respect their boundaries. If your child decides to say “no thank you” to a particular dish, honor their decision without judgment or pressure. Creating a non-judgmental atmosphere can reduce mealtime stress and foster a more positive relationship with food.
Pro Tip 6: Sensory Processing Strategies for a Positive Experience
Did you know that sensory processing challenges can be a major contributor to picky eating? Keep on reading to learn about how sensory processing impacts meal times.
What types of foods does your child seem to enjoy the most? Think about any commonalities with how the food tastes such as bland vs flavorful flavors.
Does your child tend to prefer textures that are smooth with no lumps vs crunchy foods? How about temperature preferences… room temperature, cold or hot?
For example, if your child is sensitive to certain textures, you can experiment with different cooking methods to modify the texture of foods. Gradual exposure to new textures, such as crispy or crunchy elements or gradual exposure to smoother textures, can help your child’s palette become more familiar around how these foods feel in their mouth.
The Nose Knows
When the kitchen or dining room has an abundant display of all different kinds of foods and special dishes, the aromas can be enticing or overwhelming! Children who are really sensitive to smell may have already decided to not partake purely based upon how a food item smells. If your child doesn’t like the smell then try introducing a different food that smells delicious to them and this will also help the meal be more enjoyable.
Pro Tip 7: Seek Professional Support
If your child’s picky eating habits persist and significantly impact their nutrition and overall physical health, it is beneficial to consult with other professionals and often a collaborative approach can be very helpful.
The feeding team can include your primary care provider, a pediatric occupational therapist with feeding therapy training, a registered dietitian or a feeding specialist. These professionals can provide personalized strategies and interventions to address your child’s specific needs and challenges, ultimately contributing to a more positive and enjoyable holiday mealtime experience.
Ultimately, the main focus of holiday mealtimes should be to create a positive and enjoyable experience for all involved.
By implementing these tips and fostering a supportive and understanding mealtime environment, you can help your child develop a healthier relationship with food, making holiday gatherings a time of joy and connection.