It’s Christmas Lunch – eat the food you love!
My top tips to enjoy Christmas lunch with a fussy eater.
This week I was asked by a mum for tips to manage Christmas lunch. Her fussy three-and-a-half-year-old frequently has tantrums around mealtimes when eating with the extended family. This is due, amongst other things, to being constantly encouraged to try new foods. She was already feeling anxious about the day and the meal.
“Just try the chicken, it’s yummy!”
“Jack is eating beans; why don’t you try the beans?”
“Santa is watching to see if you eat your carrots.”
What do you do when family members and friends try to get your child to try a new food?
These were my tips to her and can be used for any large family gathering or event.
1. Take breaks from the day to calm the sensory system
Christmas Day is an exciting, busy and sensory overwhelming day. Start the day armed with two or three activities that you know help to calm your child. These might be big hugs (deep pressure), a quiet dark space, swinging, jumping on a trampoline, blowing bubbles.
Don’t wait for a meltdown, take time to do an activity between key parts of the day such as after present opening and before lunch.
2. Seat your child in the best spot for a successful meal
Consider the number of people at a table and best position for your child at the table. At the end of a row of chairs, with only one person sitting next to them, might be less overwhelming that in the middle of the row.
Being seated away from any loud noise sources such as the television or music speakers can also help.
3. If possible, include yourself in the food planning for the event.
When planning the meal, remind family members that everyone has favourite foods they like to eat on Christmas Day and ask that some of your child’s favourite foods be included in the meal. There is no rule that says that bread or chicken nuggets can’t be on the Christmas table.
If you are not included in the food planning and are not sure what foods your child will be able to eat – get him/her involved in packing favourite foods to take with them for the special day. You might like to pack one of your favourite foods too.
4. Speak to family members before the event about not talking about your child’s eating.
I recommend that parents do not talk about their child’s eating difficulties at all when the child around. This includes discussing concerns, asking advice, asking your child to try a food or asking the child questions such as “Why don’t you like chicken, all the children are eating chicken?” Ask family members to do the same.
5. Have a couple of statements ready to use when someone ‘forgets’ that you have asked them not to talk about your child’s eating.
“Why don’t you try the ham, Jack?”
“Today we are not learning about new foods, we are all just eating our favourite foods.”
“Can you eat a carrot for Nana, Jack?”
“Remember Nana, that new foods make Jack feel worried. He is still learning about carrots.”
6. Be prepared that your child might not eat a lot at big family lunches.
Accept that on a busy, exciting yet overwhelming day, your child might not eat as he/she usually eats. They might even refuse their favourite foods. This is because their sensory systems are overloaded. The environment, noise, smell, crowd, presentation of the food and general feeling of being overwhelmed all impact on how they are feeling and how much they will eat.
Pack a favourite snack to have later in the day, when lunch is over and everything has quietened down.
7. There are days for working on and learning about new foods – Christmas Day is not one of them.
Have fun, enjoy and eat the food you love.