Why Holiday Eating Is Hard For Young Kids

Holiday-Eating-Is-Hard-For-Kids

Cindy Hooks Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

The Holidays are among us!  Are you ready for the next round?

I love holidays.  I love seeing family and friends.  I love planning wonderful food. I love picking out special gifts for the people I hold nearest and dearest and I love remembering families in our community with love. Holidays are busy, exciting, and full of spirit!

But do you know what else they are filled with?  They are full of kids that WILL NOT EAT WELL.

Since you’re bound to experience at least one set of raised eyebrows at a holiday table this year, here are some things you should know.

Holidays present their own unique challenges for kids when it comes to eating. Eating is a 100% sensory experience, meaning that on a regular day, healthy eating is hard work for little ones. During the holidays, we increase our feeding expectations and though unintentional, we make holiday mealtimes even harder for our kids.

Everything they are used to around mealtimes changes and all at once.  Yes, it’s true!  The table they eat at often changes, the type of dishes they’ll eat from (as you bring out the good stuff), the type of food you’ll make, the volume of foods you’ll prepare, the number of courses and choices available and even the number of guests that will be watching them eat. Pressure is on. It’s all different. Seriously, right down to their festively adorable, but possibly stiff, itchy or glittery brand new holiday attire they will be required to sit in.

During the holidays your child’s whole reliable world spirals off it’s access into a new sensory wonderland. Is it really any wonder that they want to flee the table like it’s a crime scene and run to go play with their cousins?

There is something else that changes during the holidays? THE SNACKING. Bring on the extreme holiday bread, cookie and candy making for the ones we love. Seriously! We are so excited about cookies this time of year that magazines dedicate entire issues to them, we host parties just to swap them and we even build houses out of them – even giving our children tubes full of icing to use as paste. Yes, paste. To paste on candy!

We practically throw sugar and carbs at our kids with a smile and they are T-H-R-I-L-L-E-D. We love seeing them happy and we’re happy too, because “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” just ask Andy Williams.  These holiday food rituals are a rite of passage. We did all of this when we were young and our kids will be fine, right?

Yes and no. If you’re struggling with eating this time of year can make that worse. And if not, this time of year could trigger a start for some children. Why?  Kids are reaching their caloric intake needs for the day with every holiday snack and cocoa break. Later, when you serve up a nutritious dinner, despite your best efforts, they aren’t going to eat it. They’re full. For real. They have no room left. And guess what…it’s not their fault.

So what’s a parent to do?

Do we lock up the cookies and demo the gingerbread houses?  No!  Let’s be real with each other. Holidays are about love and tradition…and about the food.  It’s a part of our culture that is not going anywhere. Despite the urge to construct a house out of whole wheat crackers, hummus and carrot coins, go ahead a give in to the gingerbread. Have fun with your kids. Research shows us that restricting foods, makes our children want them even more. Teach your kids that it’s ok to indulge in moderation. Get in healthy foods and snacks early in the day, so that there’s less pressure on all of you at dinner.  Be mindful of the amount of snacking you’re allowing and all of the changes that happen for your kids during the holidays. Pair that knowledge with realistic expectations of them at your holiday tables.  Hug your kids. Tell them their awesome and they make you proud.

Holidays allow us to pass on our family’s traditions and gift us with building new memories with our kids. Families come together to talk, laugh, sing, forgive, pray and love!  There’s no room in that for stressing over what the kids are not eating at the holiday table.  Focus on the love. Set yourselves up for success and relax.  If someone raises an eyebrow at your child’s holiday eating, smile and politely remind them that eating is hard work for kids!

Happy, Healthy Holidays!