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How to Turn Mealtime Stress into Mealtime Success at the Holidays

Updated: Nov 30, 2019

The holidays are a time of joy and excitement, as we enjoy large festive gatherings with family, friends and of course delicious food! For most of us this evokes wonderful sentiments, but for those of us who have a child with feeding difficulties, feelings of anxiety, frustration, and isolation are more likely. Feeding disorders are more common than you would think. Studies suggest that anywhere from 20-50% of typically developing children have been reported to have some type of feeding problem at some point in childhood, and those percentages jump dramatically higher within a developmentally disabled population. That being said, I have outlined a few simple suggestions to hopefully alleviate the stress that is often heightened during the holidays for those struggling with feeding difficulties at home:


· We all know that children with eating difficulties often do not acclimate well to change. If possible, try to get a “sneak peek” at the holiday menu to begin to expose your little one to the food items in advance of the actual meal. This will eliminate the element of surprise, and may help avoid a mealtime meltdown. Even if they are not ready to consume a new food, they will likely have a better shot at being able to tolerate its presence when they see it on the holiday table.


· Be sure to include some of your child’s preferred foods on the holiday menu. Make sure that the food is placed in a serving bowl on the table for everyone to enjoy, (not just on your child’s plate). Your little one will feel happy to know that his or her favorite food was included. This will encourage him or her to want to sit at the table with everyone, and will most importantly promote a feeling of a shared mealtime experience.


· Recognize your child’s limits and adjust expectations accordingly. While nonetheless festive, holiday gatherings can also be somewhat overwhelming and unpredictable, not the best environment for a child with eating difficulties. Give your little one (and yourself) a little leeway. If things veer off track, do not let it ruin your jolly spirit. As I always say in therapy, “Tomorrow will be another day and another opportunity!”


· While Grandma or Auntie may be well-meaning, forcefully chasing your little one around with a fork is not the way to get him or her to eat - especially with an audience of extended relatives present. Discussing the situation candidly with your relatives ahead of time is always best. There is nothing wrong with asking family members to respect your wishes by not discussing or addressing the matter. Explaining to them that you do not want the issue to be the center of attention during the holiday dinner may perhaps give them greater insight.


· Utilize the sights, scents, and flavors of the holiday season to your advantage. This is the perfect time of year to encourage your child to be a part of the meal preparation. Be a “food scientist” as you cook or bake your child’s favorites, or better yet try introducing new foods. This will allow them to work their sensory system while building tolerance, which is always the first step. Remember every simple experience in the kitchen is a learning opportunity!


· Lastly, try not to transfer your feelings of angst onto your little one. Don’t forget positive thoughts will always yield positive results, and hugs of encouragement will go a long way!



Happy Holidays from Reach for the Stars! -Lisa Jiannetto-Surrusco, MA, CCC-SLP

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