Holidays typically involve loads of excitement, sweets, distractions, and snacking. Here are some common situations you may run into followed by strategies for managing them:
Difficult behavior from relatives:
- Constantly feeding your kids or encouraging grazing
- Giving them lots of sweets
- Hovering over your child’s plate, frequently interfering with their eating with reminders, bribes, and pressure to eat or eat more
Difficult behavior from your kids:
- Too distracted to eat
- Grazing and munching all day long
- Tantrums and meltdowns at the table
Distracted Kids who Won’t Eat
Sometimes it’s anxiety over strange food, sometimes it’s feeling overwhelmed by so many “strangers,” and sometimes they can hardly wait to go play with their cousins. Whatever the reason, it’s normal for young kids to have tiny appetites for big Holiday meals. Let go of your expectations, take the pressure off, prepare to enjoy the food yourself and tell your child: “You don’t have to eat anything, but it is family time, so sit with us for a few minutes.” Chances are your child will find something on the table that’s edible once he gets comfortable. If he does not, see the next section on “structure” and plan for a snack in a couple of hours. Finally, it’s ok if your child eats more at a sit down snack (with only you sitting with him) and eats very little at the big feast.
Let Structure Save the Day
- Stick to structured eating times. Despite a different schedule, set some structured eating times anyway. Plan for snacks between meals and don’t let kids graze.
- Don’t try to control what other people serve, but do ask that they save all food for your kids’ meals or snack times rather than give them nibbles all day long.
- Don’t make readily available treats off limits, but do insist that your kids wait to eat until the next meal/snack time.
- Have your kids sit down for meals and snacks rather than let them run around with food.
Kids tend to want what they can’t have…or can’t have in satisfying quantity, so be wise but not controlling:
- It’s wise to keep dessert to one portion during a meal, but offer an opportunity to eat an unlimited quantity at a snack time. A whole plate of Grandma’s famous Christmas cookies with some milk will go far to neutralize their power. And the chance to get their fill of a favorite special sweet now and then allows children an opportunity to learn to self-regulate.
- Consider serving dessert alongside your child’s plate at the start of the meal. Nothing can mellow out a whiny kid at supper like seeing his sliver of pie right there next to the turkey, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. If it’s not your house, and you don’t control when the dessert comes out, then just let them enjoy their share regardless of how much they eat of their meal.
With grandparents, aunts and uncles who think it’s their job to police your child’s forkfuls, pressure them to eat what they aren’t comfortable eating, or otherwise interfere, have some choice phrases in your arsenal that will support your child and inform your relatives he doesn’t need help:
- “Auntie thinks you will enjoy this food, but it is your choice whether or not to try it”
- “You have strong ideas of what you like and dislike, and that’s okay!”
- “Someday you might love fish, but it’s okay that you don’t want to try it right now.”
- “You really listen to your body when it tells you it’s full. That’s great!”
- “Yes, she is selective. I know when she is a teenager I will really appreciate her skill in being selective with who she chooses to date.”
- “Thanks, Uncle Jim, he sees how much we enjoy this. Sooner or later, he’ll enjoy it too.”
If all of this seems like too much work, it’s totally okay to relax and “let it go!” Because, after all, it’s only a short blip in the grand scheme of things. You’ll be back to your normal routine in no time.
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