Navigating the Holidays with a Picky Eater

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When it comes to the holiday season, lots of different stressors come into play. Travel, shopping for gifts and hosting tend to top the list, but for me? One thing that comes to mind is navigating holiday meals when our kids are picky af.

For many of us, holiday meals are a big part of the season. Casseroles, childhood favorites that you only have once a year, snacking on cheese plates all day long… it’s legit. We spend hours in the kitchen on traditional fare and prep, and there’s usually a lot of anticipation for the holiday meal. But for kids with a less than adventurous palate, these meals can be stressful and quite frankly unenjoyable. Once they get past the rolls and mashed potatoes, there’s probably not a lot else to be excited for. They don’t have their safe foods to fall back on, and on top of that, there may be unrealistic expectations of behavior, like sitting at a formal place setting with adults they don’t see often. It’s a lot. Pass the wine.

This year, we’re spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with our immediate family and some close friends. Overall, it’ll be a low-key, low-stress holiday season, but it got me thinking about how different it would be if we were celebrating with a large group, or extended family who may have different expectations (and non-picky eaters.)

I talked to a few friends and fellow moms of picky eaters about how they handle the holiday meal sitch, and compiled the following tips for consideration:

  • Involve them in the prep. Most kids love helping, whether that’s in the kitchen or with the table setting. Even if you know they aren’t going to dig into the spread, give them a special job so that they are contributing and feel part of the day. You never know, maybe they’ll be game to try one of the foods that they help make!
  • Feed your child beforehand. We all know the joy of having a hangry child on our hands. If you know they’ll eat limited foods at the table, consider giving them a pre-meal so they have something in their stomachs at the get-together.
  • It’s OK if your child only eats the bread. The holiday meal is too high stakes for most picky eaters to venture outside of their comfort zone. Let’s stop pretending that it may be the day they decide to eat a carrot or dig into the brussels sprouts. If they only want a roll and a sliver of turkey, then fine (tbh if my boys have any turkey I’ll be celebrating.) Let them enjoy their meal without the pressure of filling their plate to be polite, and then you can enjoy yours.
  • Give small portions. Involve your child in their food selection, and if they’re open to trying something new, give a small portion so as not to overwhelm them. They can always go back for seconds if they like it or recreate that dish again after the holiday.
  • Set boundaries where you need to. Hope fully it doesn’t come to this, but if well-meaning family members comment on your child’s near-empty plate or overtly praises their cousin for being such a “good eater,” you may need to have a quiet word with them. Generally, with kids, especially picky eaters, it’s best to keep conversations around food positive and to a minimum. Often people just want to help, but it can quickly become a lot of pressure for a child to shoulder and the last thing you want is for them to feel ashamed at the table.

Try to remember that the holidays are not all about food. Obviously, most of us love a good holiday spread but aim to keep things in perspective and focus on the importance of giving thanks and being together with your loved ones.

Do you have a picky eater? Tell us in the comments how you navigate this time of year.

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