For many families, food plays a central role in holiday celebrations. That can be tough for kids who are sensitive to the tastes, smells, and textures of foods.
Kids with food sensitivities may not be able to tolerate the dishes everyone else at home looks forward to. They may reject holiday foods other people prepare. These food struggles can create difficult and uncomfortable situations.
But there are things you can do to help your child manage the challenges and avoid clashes over holiday food. Try these seven tips.
1. Set rules and expectations.
If you expect your child to try a small “thank you” bite, make that clear. If that’s not important to you, teach your child polite ways to say no (including to you). Also be clear about manners. For example, let your child know there’s no commenting on food (“that looks gross”) or complaining about it.
Holidays can be stressful in lots of ways for kids who learn and think differently. And kids with food sensitivities may be sensitive to other things, too. Think about whether the holidays are a good time to ask your child to start trying new foods or insist on a clean plate.
3. Talk about menus in advance.
If someone else is cooking the meal, talk about the menu ahead of time. Explain your child’s sensitivities, so that person understands why your child might turn down certain foods. Be clear that you’re not asking for a change in the menu. You just want everybody to be prepared — including your child.
4. Bring foods or make a dish your child will eat.
If someone else is hosting, volunteer to bring a side dish that you know your child will eat. And make plenty if you know it’s all your child will eat. You can also bring a small container of your child’s favorite foods and snacks. Speak with your child ahead of time about when and where to eat snacks.
5. Make it easy for your child to fill up.
If the meal is at your home, you probably already have foods your child likes on the menu. But the many smells at a food-filled table may also bother your taste-sensitive child. Serve snacks or appetizers your child likes. If the meal is overwhelming, your child can still leave the table with a full stomach.
6. Let your child eat before you go.
If new foods will trigger anxiety, or if hunger might set off a meltdown, plan ahead. It’s OK if your child eats at home before you go somewhere else for the meal. You may want to pull the host aside to explain why your child isn’t hungry, though.
7. 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.