The holidays present unique mealtime challenges: eating different foods at different houses, maybe with more people at the table. It’s no surprise that you may face challenges when it comes to making sure your child eats well during this time. Here’s how to encourage your children to listen to their own hunger/fullness cues and enjoy mealtimes over the holidays.
Kids’ holiday food: Consider the big picture
The holidays are a special time to make memories and strengthen relationships while having lots of fun. Food is a common centerpiece for many traditions and celebrations. It’s part of your family culture — and the smells and tastes can bring back memories from years past. These are important anchors your child will develop over years to come.
Helping your child listen to their body signals during these gatherings will set them up for a lifetime of success in not only choosing the foods they eat and how much, but also paying attention to how they feel and what comes up for them at the holiday table. Also, part of helping your child be happy at the dinner table will give you the time and space to enjoy a meal with the other adults there!
Prepping for the gathering
If you know your child has a hard time sitting down to eat when their cousins are around, it may help to go into the gathering feeling rested. Depending on your kiddo’s age, allowing them to get some good zzzs in before heading into a more chaotic environment can help.
Another common concern is that they won’t like Aunt Judy’s green beans. It can be really helpful to present familiar foods alongside the new ones. Allow your little one to explore and try new things while having the security of foods they know they enjoy on their plate as well. If they’re able to help you or other family members prepare food in the kitchen, this can be a lasting positive memory and even encourage them to try something new!
Try to let go of your own baggage around food
If you’ve ever struggled with your relationship with food or your body, do your best to take care of yourself during this time too. And if you need a little extra support, reach out to your provider to see if there’s someone they might be able to recommend you speaking with.
We tend to place our own unhealthy thoughts about food on our kids. By challenging our beliefs about food, we can protect our kids from our own negative connotations.
In general, kids tend to be good at self-regulating — eating when they’re hungry and stopping when they’re full. By letting your kids have control over what they eat and how much, they learn to build their instincts and form good habits.
Manage outside comments
The holidays bring out the best in lots of us. For some, though, it can bring out a lot of food anxiety, which can show up as invasive, judgmental comments about what you and/or your children are eating. Not only are these offensive and unhelpful, but research has shown that negative talk about bodies/dieting actually increases the risk of children gaining excess weight in unhealthy ways and developing eating disorders.
Responding directly to comments from family members is an important way to teach your children how to set healthy boundaries as well as how to shut down negative body/food talk. It’s okay to say for example, “We don’t police food and we are teaching our kids to listen to their bodies,” or “We don’t comment on what other people eat at our house, please refrain from doing so anymore today.” If you anticipate unhelpful commentary from a certain family member — on how your child looks or what they choose to eat — addressing these challenges before you arrive can help. A quick text can encourage supportive actions from family, and set the tone for what you expect.
Focus on joy
As parents, we want the holidays to be a warm and special time to spend together and remember for a lifetime. Family gathering and meals create traditions, recipes, games, and laughter that our children will never forget — and may even pass on to the next generation. The contagious joy of celebrating and eating can be a positive outcome of this season to carry forward for the whole family.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Jill Castle. “How to Help Your Child Eat Well and Be a Good Guest at Holiday Meals.” U.S. News & World Report. November 25, 2019. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents/articles/holiday-meals-and-kids-helping-them-to-eat-well-and-be-a-good-guest.
- Kaitlyn Kamleiter. “Avoiding picky eating during holiday meals.” Children’s Minnesota. November 25, 2019.
- Sally Kuzemchak, M.S., R.D. “Don’t Micromanage What Your Kids Eat At Holiday Parties.” Real Mom Nutrition. December 5, 2019.
- Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP. “Avoiding Food Traps.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics. August 20, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Avoiding-Food-Traps.aspx.