Getting together with family and friends during the holidays can be a sensory overload for most young children; and it can be particularly challenging when your child already struggles with change. There are different smells and extra heat in the kitchen, there are loud noises of beeping timers and family cheering on football games. Here you are, running around trying to please everyone, and then the “extremely selective eater” in your child comes out faster than you can say, “let’s eat!” Though it may seem impossible have everyone eat at the Thanksgiving table this year, we are hoping to help.

The overall goal is to enjoy the holiday. Even if you have learned new strategies in therapy, a holiday meal with extended family is not where you should expect your child to impress your in-laws by trying new foods and expanding their food repertoire. Unrealistic expectations, especially in front of an audience, create an added burden for both the child and parent. But, it doesn’t have to be this way! Smita Joshi, M.S. CCC-SLP, has some tips to lessen the stress around your dinner table this year:

1. Pick two or three foods to plate for your child. Having a variety of foods can be overwhelming. Choose only a couple foods that your child will be likely to eat. Set him up for success!

2. Side dishes can be a main course for even the pickiest of eaters, so make sure you have plenty of side options (like mac and cheese) that everyone can feel ok about putting on their plate.

3. Think of your child’s preference for texture and temperature. Choose foods similar to what your child is already comfortable eating. For example,

  • if your child only eats crunchy foods, then grab a few bits of fried onions off the casserole instead of serving the actual casserole
  • if your child eats food at room temperature, make sure to give it plenty of time to cool off

4. Serve food in bite size pieces. Serving smaller portions broken into bite size pieces can be visually less overwhelming. Before presenting the plate to your child,

  • cut or rip up the turkey into bite size pieces instead of a large slice
  • break up stuffing into five small clumps on the plate rather than a big spoonful

Heading to a family member’s house for the holiday?

5. Pack one familiar food as a back-up: If your child experiences severe anxiety trying new food, then pack one familiar food that your child is comfortable eating. Serve your child’s familiar food on the plate and choose one new food from the holiday menu. (Hint: go for whatever item little cousins are digging into!)

6. Consider bringing familiar plates and utensils: Having a familiar plate and your child’s own utensils can help your child feel more comfortable and at ease about eating at someone else’s house for the holiday.

It’s okay if your child only eats bread or macaroni and cheese today. Relax the rules and let him or her indulge in the featured desserts. Make sure to enjoy a slice (or two) yourself!

Happy Holidays from your feeding specialist friends at Assential Therapies, Inc.