We’re all looking forward to the holidays, aren’t we? Or are we?
Often holidays with a picky eater can be stressful. Especially if we’re celebrating with friends and relatives, where even well-meaning family can inadvertently add enormous pressure onto us, and our children.
As much as we want to enjoy the holiday period, worrying about food often clouds even the sunniest of destinations.
I’ve spoken to parents who plan the food for trips away like a military campaign, they are so worried that acceptable menu items may be few and far between. Experience has shown them that all nuggets are not created equal!
However, there are some great ways to support your child and avoid some of the flash points that can dampen your holiday cheer.
1. RELAX – we are our children’s most important relationship, so how we feel around food and feeding greatly influences how your child behaves. As challenging as it is not to worry about food over the holidays, the more you stress the more likely your child will too.
2. PREEMPT – we all have well-meaning friends and relatives who like to ‘help’ us parent. If you’re able, can you make a quick call or send an email and explain that as much as you are working on supporting your child to eat more widely, the holidays are not the time to do this. Unsolicited advice is rarely heeded or welcomed!
3. EXPECTATIONS – if we have a child that eats no meat, no sauces and no vegetables the chances of them looking forward to a full holiday meal with all the trimmings is slim. Rather than hoping for a magic eating wand, if we go into meals with realistic expectations this helps to avoid disappointment and frustration.
4. ENJOYMENT – holidays are for the enjoyment of everyone. Your child has the right to come to the table and be excited about what they’re going to eat. If that means that some cheese and crackers are available alongside the main meal, this enables them to celebrate too. I know this may seem controversial but honestly, is the holiday period the right time to be teaching children food lessons?
5. EXPLAIN – knowing what to expect can be very comforting for a child who is anxious around food. Explain what’s going to happen and how you are going to support them ahead of time. This will enable them to relax. The more relaxed they are, the more likely they are to eat.
6. ROUTINES – having routines, even on holidays, is very comforting for children. If lunches and evening meals are going to be more ad hoc, then plan for a familiar and predictable breakfast. For a lot of picky eaters this is an easier meal. Making sure they’re eating well first thing allows us to relax a little more during the day.
7. PLAN – travelling or spending time with friends and relatives can send timing and menus totally off to left field. We’ve all been to a dinner where food doesn’t arrive until 9.00pm – eek! Make sure you make provision for those times when food isn’t going to be served in time or where the menu doesn’t tick boxes for your child. A low pressure way to do this is to bring a share plate to social events. This enables your child to eat without inconveniencing anyone else or drawing attention to their eating habits.
8. FAMILIARITY – we are always more comfortable when we’re around things that we’re familiar with. This applies to both objects and food. If your child has a favourite plate or cutlery, bring it along. This can help bridge a discomfort gap. With food we can do this by ensuring there are always things at the table that they recognise.
9. AUTONOMY – your child is more likely to eat if they feel they have some control. Allow them to choose which foods to put onto their plate. We can set some boundaries so they don’t come back with just a pile of cookies! If we are serving then small portions are always less overwhelming than big piles – especially if it’s a challenging food.
10. BOUNDARIES – set some firm guidelines around mealtimes to create certainty for the whole family. For example, everyone stays at the table for 15 minutes and participates in the celebrations even if they are not eating. Or stating “we won’t be having any more food for the next 2 hours so please make sure you’ve had enough to eat”.
Holidays can be stressful in the food sphere. Just being away from home or out of routine can put children out of their comfort zone.
But they’re also a fabulous opportunity for children to eat foods they wouldn’t usually contemplate:
- Being around friends or relatives who are happily chomping on something different, and doing it happily, can be a catalyst for your child to attempt something new.
- Being presented with something new in conjunction with something familiar can bridge the gap for your child, and enable them to eat something more challenging. Turkey crackers anyone?
- Some children do feel more relaxed when they’re on holidays, and able to do things they wouldn’t normally consider.
- Not being the centre of attention when it comes to food can take a lot of pressure off a picky eater, and give them the confidence to try foods without the shine of the spotlight.
- Having new foods on offer may give your child the opportunity to try a food that isn’t part of their normal repertoire.
People cook, serve and present foods differently. Sometimes the same food, prepared in a new way, is more appealing to your child.
Whether you have a child that prefers chips to broccoli, or one who only eats one brand of crackers and toast, there are strategies to enable everyone to have a relaxed and enjoyable holiday.
For more expert advice on toddler nutrition, check out our Food and Nutrition section.