4 Tips To Survive the Holidays With a Picky Eater

Dr. Kay Toomey

The holidays are a fun and exciting time for all of us.  We love to share our traditions with our extended family members and enjoy eating all the special foods that go along with big holiday meals.  However, what do you do if you have a child who refuses to eat any of your family’s traditional dishes?  Living with a Picky Eater at the holidays can be even more challenging than living with them the rest of the year.  Here are some tips to make the holidays with your Picky Eater more survivable:

1. Keep your child on a normal eating schedule. 

While it’s tempting to let our routines and schedules shift because everyone is on vacation, your child with eating issues will do better if you do not disrupt their usual appetite patterns.  Children are conditioned to eat certain amounts of food at certain times of the day.  Keeping their schedule the same over the holidays will help keep their appetite steady. 

2. Decrease their level of over-stimulation. 

The holidays are often filled with great anticipation of visits from cousins or Santa, special outings like caroling or sledding, and special meals with lots of relatives.  This increased level of excitement, noise and stimulation can be especially disorganizing for a child with feeding challenges.  Think about limiting yourselves to one holiday activity a day, and make sure that activity is worked around your child’s typical eating and sleeping schedule. 

3. Predict and practice what changes are going to happen for your child, before the event.

When you are going to change a child’s typical routine, it is very helpful for them to know that in advance.  Explain the event, when it’s being held, who will be there, what types of foods there will be, where the event is taking place, and how long the activity is.  Also, tell them ahead of time what you expect regarding their behavior (manners, participation, sharing, eating ect.).  Your child will do best if they can actually practice some parts of the upcoming changes beforehand.  For example, make some of you special holiday foods a week or two earlier to have at a regular family dinner.  You could also create a schedule of the day using pictures of the place, activities and the relatives that will be there.    

4. Feed your Picky Eater before the main event.

High levels of excitement, adult pressure to behave and disruptions to our schedules are known to suppress appetite.  In addition, there are often foods at holiday meals that the children only see on those special occasions.  A Picky Eater who is not necessarily hungry is going to have a really hard time sitting down to eat several unfamiliar foods with a large group of people.  In order to make your holiday meal go as smoothly as possible, feed your Picky Eater their preferred meal separately first and then make sure you include something on the holiday table that you know they can comfortably eat. 

Learn How to Know if Your Child Has a Feeding Problem

Photo of Dr. ToomeyDr. Kay Toomey is a pediatric psychologist who has worked for nearly 30 years, with children who don’t eat. She is the developer of the highly effective, family-centered SOS Approach to Feeding in successful use worldwide to assess and treat children with feeding problems. In addition to directing SOS Feeding Solutions at STAR Institute, Dr. Toomey speaks nationally and internationally about her approach. She also acts as a consultant to Gerber Products. Dr. Toomey helped establish The Children’s Hospital Pediatric Oral Feeding Clinic in Denver and Rose Medical Center’s Pediatric Feeding Center, also in Denver. Dr. Toomey co-chaired the Pediatric Therapy Services Department at Rose Medical Center prior to entering private practice. She is currently the president of Toomey & Associates, Inc., which provides her speaking services.