With the holiday season quickly approaching, we will be meeting up with family members in order to spend some quality time together. Let’s be honest though, for most of us the delicious holiday food is the added perk of these gatherings. For many of our kids, being a selective eater at a holiday meal is HARD! Not only are these kids anxious anticipating all of the new foods that a relative is bound to pile on their plate, but imagine all of the other sensory input that they are receiving… an abundance of smells of food cooking, family members loudly talking over one another, holiday music plus a football game playing in the background, children crying, dogs panting and drooling on you, the list goes on and on. Let’s use some simple tips this holiday season so that our kids are able to enjoy rather than just suffer through the holiday meal!
1. Try a practice run- practice in a less overwhelming environment
Introduce your child to several of the foods that he or she will be exposed to at the holiday meal days or weeks in advance. Repeated exposure to these foods will allow your child to explore and learn about the foods in a familiar environment, ensuring they will have success during the holiday meal.
2. Have your child assist in preparing the meal
Encouraging your child to assist in meal preparation allows him or her to learn ALL about the foods. He or she can roll up their sleeves and get messy in the preparation while also learning about the foods themselves (e.g., scent, texture, and individual ingredients).
3. Encourage taste tests of single components while preparing the meal
Allow your child to explore individual components of a meal item instead of expecting them to try a finished dish. For example, a small taste of a cooked green bean or a bite of French fried onions is much less daunting than a taste of a green bean casserole!
4. Encourage putting one new food on plate during the meal
Don’t heap new foods onto your child’s plate. Encourage your child to put ONE small scoop or piece of ONE new food on his or her plate. Some children may be able to try a bite of the new food, but for other children it may be challenging enough for them to touch, smell, or lick the small amount of new food.
5. Describe, describe, describe
Use adjectives to describe the foods that you are introducing your child to. Describe the flavor (e.g., spicy, sweet, salty, big flavor, little flavor), temperature (e.g., hot, cold), and texture (e.g., crunchy, wet, dry, sticky) so you prepare your child for the food that he or she is about to encounter. He or she will have a more positive encounter with the food when prepared for the properties of the food.
6. Feed your child a small meal ahead of time
I truly believe in the concept of being “hangry” (i.e. hunger + angry). Your child will tolerate sitting at the dinner table and being exposed to new foods when he or she isn’t super hungry. Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if you were surrounded a chaotic environment and new foods while being super hungry!
7. Use family-style serving or have your child be the server
Even if your child isn’t able to eat a new food, he or she can be assigned the job of dishing up foods for family members or you can pass foods around the table family-style. Each time your child passes a dish, he or she will get a big whiff of the food and take a peek at it.
8. Incorporate a few of your child’s safe foods in the meal
Allow your child to prepare one of his or her safe foods to share with the family. Maybe your child loves crackers or chips and can provide an appetizer. Maybe he or she loves French fries and can prepare a batch to share. Your child will be proud of what he or she prepared and will enjoy watching family members taste test it! Plus, this ensures one or two foods that won’t cause your child anxiety during the mealtime.
9. Use dipping sauces
Have some of your child’s favorite dipping sauces (e.g., Ketchup, Ranch dressing) within reach. Being able to have a familiar flavor on a new food may give your child the confidence to try a new food. Who cares if it’s unconventional to put Ketchup on turkey or Ranch dressing on a dinner roll if it means that your child is trying something new.
10. Decrease overwhelming sensory stimuli
If your child is sensitive to sensory stimuli throughout the entire day, here are a few tricks! Spray a scarf with a preferred scent that your child can pull over his or her nose when exposed to a strong food smell. Provide your child with noise canceling headphones to muffle auditory stimuli. Establish a “sensory space” or “quiet space” that your child can retreat to for breaks throughout the day.
Consider checking out these additional blog resources for additional tips and tricks! Enjoy putting these tips into action with your child this holiday season!
Written By: Sarah Williams, MA, CCC-SLP