Planning for Holiday Meals with a Picky Eater

It’s that time of the year, where Thanksgiving and other food-centered holidays are around the corner! Extreme selectivity with foods may not only be a stressful thing for the “picky eater” but can also have an affect on parents.  The anticipation of an entire day focused on family and food has many parents antagonizing over their child’s selectivity and intolerances to certain foods.  Here are some ideas to help your family enjoy a festive meal and prevent mealtime meltdowns.

1. Family History 101

Kids love a good story, especially when it is about them! So when you’re preparing your Thanksgiving dinner, make a social story about how the meal came to be. What family recipes were used and who created them? What family traditions were involved? What is the story behind the china they are going to eat off of? Take pictures, include their name throughout the story, print it out and read it often. You can even make it funny and add to it each year!

These types of stories help to support the social and emotional issues surrounding the food served which may facilitate a new thought process for a picky eater. Sweet potatoes might have been rejected initially, but a story about it being grandma’s secret recipe and mommy’s favorite food when she was a little girl might encourage a bite… or two!

2. Setting the Stage

Once you have made your holiday plans start setting the stage for success! If you are going to grandma’s house and there isn’t enough room at the main dinner table for kids, start practicing with your child eating at the “kids table”. At your Aunt Betty’s and she expects all the kids to eat off china plates? Then start practicing by eating off of “special plates”. Will there be eating by candlelight? Practice with that! Recreate the scenario your child will be experiencing in order to make them feel comfortable and willing to eat in a new environment.

3. The Little Chef

We know that children are much more likely to try a food if they have helped prepare it. Seeing the ingredients involved, how the meal was prepared, and the fact they “made it all by themselves” can go a LONG way! When they have a vested interest in the meal it can increase their desire to partake in all the food festivities, especially when it is a preferred food or meal! When visiting at a family member of friends house for the holidays,  ask if you can bring the salad or dessert that you and little Sally made! 

4. Statements From Family and Friends

It can be stressful when well-meaning family members, who only see your kids once a year, make judgmental comments.  “Lilly still isn’t eating vegetables?” or “I just don’t understand how you’re child still doesn’t eat”.  Statements made can be hurtful to you and may negatively impact your child. Come prepared with a response to these types of statements.  Make sure the responses are delivered in a calm, educating voice.

“Actually, Lilly has a feeding disorder and we are working hard in therapy to encourage her to try new foods. We would love your support this weekend in making her feel relaxed about eating.”

Planning ahead can allow you to feel more comfortable and allows you help with your child’s emotional needs as well as their nutritional needs during holiday meals.

Hope this tips are helpful not only for parents but for those picky eaters as well! ENJOY! 🙂





Article: Strategies to Support Picky Eaters BEFORE your Holiday Meal

Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP


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