As we begin the Holiday season, the promise of good food, possible time with family, sharing of gifts and more food is exciting! Even in the middle of a pandemic, we are hoping for an inkling of a normal Thanksgiving. However, for families that have children struggling with feeding and eating skills, the prospect of a family mealtime may not bring joy. Here is hoping that these strategies make your family mealtimes more enjoyable.
Maintain the Routine
Stick with your child’s routine not only the day of a holiday but the week leading up to the big day. Holiday gatherings, even if on a smaller scale, can be filled with lots of noise, tactile input, and smells. This can be overwhelming for a little one even before the mealtime begins. Make sure that your child is getting enough rest during the day and maintains their normal nighttime sleep schedule. A well-rested little one can regulate this sensory input easier. In short, keep feeding your child’s sleep bank leading up to the day.
Decide on a game plan before the Holiday. Do you hope that your child is able to join the family at the table or do you want your child to eat the planned meal? Whatever your plan is, try not to make a game day change. If you want your child to sit with the family, make sure that they are well rested, have had a snack (or a meal) beforehand, and that there is familiar food on the table. If you want your child to eat the planned meal, practice some of these foods before the Holiday, even if it is only in small amounts. Having an opportunity to see, smell, touch, and experience foods before the Holiday will help with your child’s worries or anxiety with the mealtime. If your child is in feeding therapy, make sure that your therapist is helping you practice these foods!
Access to Familiar Foods
Make sure that the holiday table contains familiar foods for your child, even if it is a big bowl of goldfish. Familiar foods will lower your child’s anxiety and continue to have them be part of the mealtime process.
Take a Break
Find a safe space for your child to regroup during the day, even for your big ones that are done taking a nap. Giving your child a chance to regroup, reorganize, revitalize themselves will get you through the rest of the day.
Managing the Opinions
If you are dealing with too many opinions about what your child is or is not eating, BLAME YOUR THERAPIST! Tell your family that you would love for your child to try new foods, but “Lucy’s (insert your child’s name here) therapist is just too pushy and told me not to.” Therapists can take it!
So, enjoy your day! Just remember, it is one day of eating. If your child is happy and has a full belly, no matter how this happened, it was a good day!
Colleen Wasemann is an occupational therapist and co-owner of Feeding Friends Children’s Feeding Clinic and Therapy Services, Inc. in Indianapolis. She received her Master’s degree from the University of Indianapolis and her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from Chatham University. She enjoys seeing children gain independence in mealtime through decreasing their anxiety and increasing their skills. In her spare time, Colleen enjoys spending time with her husband, Dave and their two children hiking, reading, and playing games.