For many families, holidays are a time of endless eating. That can be tough for kids who are sensitive to the tastes, smells, and textures of foods.
Holiday foods are as much about traditions as they are about eating. Some recipes are passed down through generations, and some represent an aspect of a holiday.
Some kids may not like to eat oyster stuffing or marshmallow–sweet potato casserole or latkes. But they might like hearing stories of how you learned to make them—or that you used to pick all the marshmallows off the top when you were a kid.
Remembering that some foods are more about tradition and less about eating can take some of the pressure off you and your child. Here are more tips to cut back on food battles—and to let you all enjoy the holidays.
1. Set ground rules.
Be clear about your expectations for holiday gatherings. If you expect your child to try a small “thank you” bite, make that clear. If you don’t mind your child not trying new foods, teach phrases that can be used to politely say no.
And be clear about manners, like not saying things like “That smells/looks/tastes gross!” Or not spitting out mouthfuls of foods that “feel weird.”
2. Pick your battles.
Picking food battles wisely can help you focus on what matters. Food and cooking are important. But enjoying yourself and making memories are important parts of the holidays, too.
in lots of ways for kids who learn and think differently. And kids with food sensitivities may be sensitive to other things, too. So it might not be a good time to ask your child to start trying new foods. Or to finish everything else before being allowed to have dessert.
3. Talk with the host about the menu.
If you’ll be eating the holiday meal at someone else’s house, try to talk with your host a few days beforehand. Explain your child’s food sensitivities. This helps the host understand why your child might refuse certain foods.
Let your host know you’re not asking for a change in menu for your child. You just want everybody to be prepared—including your child.
4. Don’t take other people’s comments to heart.
Not everyone will understand your child’s food sensitivities and your reasons for handling things the way you do. But try not to let other people’s comments, advice, or lack of support make you doubt yourself. It’s OK to stick to the plan you made to make your child comfortable.
If other people want to talk about it, suggest a time after the holidays. It might be a better conversation if you wait for a calmer time.
5. Bring foods or make a dish your child will eat.
Volunteer to bring a side dish or two that you know your child will eat. And make plenty if you know it’s all your child will eat. If you talked with the host ahead of time, it won’t be unexpected for you to show up with extra food.
You can also bring a small container or bag of your child’s favorite foods and snacks. Speak with your child ahead of time about when and where to eat snacks.
If you’re the one hosting a holiday dinner or gathering this year, you’ve probably already built foods your child likes into the menu. But keep in mind that the many smells at a food-filled table may also bother your taste-sensitive child. So may the way certain foods look.
Think about putting out snacks or serving appetizers your child likes. That way if the rest of the meal seems too overwhelming and your child has to leave the table, it will be with a full stomach.
6. Let your child eat before you go.
If new foods will trigger anxiety or hunger might set off a meltdown, plan ahead. It’s OK if your child gets to a holiday gathering with a full stomach. It’ll probably put your child in a better mood, too.
You may want to pull the host aside to explain why your child isn’t hungry, though. That way you avoid offending the host if your child doesn’t eat dinner.
Looking for more ways to help kids handle the holidays? Download a six-week planner to help kids with sensory challenges enjoy the season.