Holidays are a time for family, friends and…endless eating. That can be tough for kids with sensory processing issues who are sensitive to the tastes, smells and textures of foods. These tips can help reduce food battles—and let you and your child enjoy the holidays.
1. Talk with the host about the menu
If you’ll be eating the holiday meal at someone else’s house, try to talk with your host a few days beforehand. Explain your child’s food sensitivities, so she knows why he may behave in a certain way or not eat the foods.
Let your host know you’re not asking her to change the menu for your child. You just want everybody to be prepared—including your child.
2. Bring favorite foods with you
Volunteer to bring a side dish or two that you know your child will eat. And make plenty if you know it’s all your child will eat! If you’ve spoken to the host ahead of time, it won’t be an unexpected intrusion.
You can also bring a small container or bag of your child’s favorite foods and snacks. Speak with your child ahead of time about when and where he can eat snacks so it doesn’t draw unwanted attention to his food sensitivities.
3. Serve appetizers your child will eat
If you’re hosting a holiday dinner or gathering this year, you’ve probably already built foods your child likes into the menu. But keep in mind that the mingling smells at a food-filled table may also bother your taste-sensitive child. So may the appearance of certain food. That may cause him to not eat at all.
Think about putting out hors d’oeuvres or serving appetizers your child enjoys. That way if he finds the rest of the meal too overwhelming and excuses himself, he won’t be leaving the table hungry.
4. Feed your child before you go
If new foods will trigger anxiety or hunger might set off a meltdown, plan ahead. It’s OK to make sure your child arrives to a holiday gathering with a full stomach and in a good mood.
You may want to pull the host aside to tell her your child isn’t hungry so there’s no offense taken at the dinner table.
5. Set the ground rules
Be clear with your child about your expectations for holiday gatherings. If you expect him to try a small “thank you” bite, make that clear. If you don’t mind if he doesn’t try new foods, teach him phrases he can use to politely decline.
And be clear about food sensitivity-related manners, such as not saying things like “That smells/looks/tastes gross!” Or not spitting out mouthfuls of foods with unusual textures.
6. Tell the stories of traditional foods
Holiday foods are as much about traditions as they are about eating. Some recipes are passed down through generations and some foods (like latkes) are representative of an aspect of the holiday.
Your child still may not like to eat oyster stuffing or marshmallow-sweet potato casserole. But he may appreciate them more after hearing stories of how you learned to make them—or that you used to pick all the marshmallows off the top when you were a kid.
7. Pick your food battles wisely
Holidays can be stressful in many ways for kids with learning and attention issues. And a child who has food sensitivities may have other sensitivities, too. So it might not be a good time to ask your child to start trying new foods or to finish everything on his plate before he can have dessert.
Focus instead on why you’re gathering with family and friends. Food and cooking are important, but enjoying yourself and making pleasant memories are important parts of the holidays, too. Picking food battles wisely can help you do both.
8. Disregard other people’s comments
Not everyone will understand your child’s food sensitivities and your reasons for handling things the way you do. Don’t let other people’s comments, advice or lack of support undermine you. Stick to the rules you’ve set to make your child comfortable.
If either you or other people want to talk about it, suggest a time after the holidays. It might be a better conversation if you wait for a quieter time.
This article is from Understood.org, a great resource for information on learning and attention issues. The article was written by Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.