Feeding, Festivities and Special Occasions: Top Tips for Managing Feeding Challenges over the Festive Season
Take focus off food and celebrate in other ways. Take the focus away from food over the holiday season. Emphasise non-food traditions and rituals such as singing festive songs, playing party games, giving gifts, and participating in religious or cultural activities. Make the mealtime special in ways that do not involve food. Use festive napkins, place-mats, a table cloth, or candles and give your child a special job to do like decorating a centrepiece for the table.
Plan in your child’s accepted foods. Special occasions are not the time to try to expand your child's food list - let everyone enjoy the foods they are comfortable with. As always, keep anxiety low by planning in some of your child’s accepted foods even if they do not typically fit with the traditional menu. If everyone else is enjoying a special meal - help your child feel good too by planning in some of their favourite foods.
Relax about sweets and treats: Avoid being too restrictive over treats and sweet foods - they are all part of the fun! It can help your child’s appetite if you try to serve festive foods as part of their routine meal and snack times rather than slipping into a grazing pattern. However, some flexibility in your routine will likely be necessary - especially if meeting with friends and family.
Brief relatives in advance: If celebrating with friends or relatives, it can be helpful to brief them beforehand with some simple guidelines. Tell them that you are working to support your child with their eating and you would appreciate it if they do not draw attention to it at the family meal. Tell them that the best way to help is not to comment on your child’s eating at all, and not to ask your child to taste or try new foods.
Consider the sensory environment: If your child’s eating challenges are related to sensory processing difficulties, be mindful of the sensory environment during festive celebrations. Make sure that your child is not overwhelmed by things like bright lights, music, social interaction, new smells and tastes, and ensure they are not over-excited when they sit down to eat. Give your child opportunities to take breaks and take time to do activities that help them feel calm and regulated.