I love Christmas and the food is one of the highlights for me. But I know this is not true of a lot of children who struggle to eat.
There is often very little on offer that ticks boxes for a selective eater. If you add to this:
1. Being somewhere new (or having people over)
2. Having relatives commenting on what's being eaten
3. Feeling pressured to have foods that are not in the comfort zone
4. Sitting for too long at a table that holds no interest
5. Being surrounded by smells that can be overwhelming
- And suddenly Christmas Day doesn't seem so much fun.
My top tips for making Christmas Dinner rock for everyone:
1. Make sure our child knows what to expect. It's often easier to cope if we've been pre-warned.
2. Can we talk to relatives in advance and explain that Christmas Day is never the right time to be teaching lessons about eating food so please not to comment/ intervene.
3. Setting sensible time limits on how long our child needs to be at the table (or giving them the ability to get down - within reason).
4. Relax. The way we feel affects the way our child feels. If we're happy and smiling it enables them to do the same.
5. Set expectations. If our child doesn't normally eat any meat or any veg then we shouldn't be disappointed when they don't hoe into the turkey ...
6. Give our child some autonomy. What would they like to put on their plate. Gifting them some control helps.
7. Having some familiar items can be comforting. Is it a favourite plate or cutlery or is it having rabbit sitting next to them.
8. And the MOST IMPORTANT :) Christmas Day is for everyone to enjoy. It's about family and fun and loving celebrating. No one does this if they are not able to eat things they enjoy. So, my advice is to have one of our children's favourites at the table. Hopefully there is something that blends in like some potatoes or carrot sticks but if it's peanut butter on crackers then it is.
Let's return to - Christmas Day is not the place to teach someone to eat - so why wreck it for everyone. If our child just eats plain pasta whilst we're eating turkey and ham then that's OK. They will have a great Christmas and isn't that what we want for them ...
Biting, chewing and swallowing. AKA - EATING!!
When our child gets more confidence around a food they are gradually able to get it into the mouth and actually chew and swallow it.
Often this step is days, weeks, months or even years after we introduce Step 1 so don't be discouraged if it doesn't happen overnight. Eating can be very challenging and it takes time for our child to work through the steps at their own pace.
I hope this week has helped you a little. Let me know what you think and what could be useful to know.
Now we're actually getting the food into the mouth, but being able to take it out (preferably politely) if we don't like it.
Having the ability to try a food but still remove it from the mouth if a picky eater is a bit overwhelmed by the taste or the texture enables the to take an easier step forward.
If we have to chew and swallow anything that goes into our mouth, that's a lot more challenging.
Step 5 to Eating Ah, we're getting to the pointy end now! Licking. Getting a food up to the mouth and touching the tongue to it. Not that I advise parents to ask their children to lick foods. It's just part of the natural progression we follow when l
Ah, we're getting to the pointy end now!
Getting a food up to the mouth and touching the tongue to it.
Not that I advise parents to ask their picky eaters to lick foods. It's just part of the natural progression we follow when learning to like a new food.
Just touching it with the tongue is a precursor to being able to put it into the mouth. For many children with food anxiety or fears this is a big step.
If your child is able to touch a food with their tongue it's a positive so feel good (rather than disappointed that they're not eating it). If they are able to do this repeatedly they are building up to the next step which may be more challenging for them.
Not that I'm advocating sticking our nose into food!
However, being comfortable about how a food smells is going to make it far more likely we are happy to put it near our mouth.
Gradually becoming more comfortable about the smell of new foods supports steps forward.
If the smell of new foods is overwhelming then it's not likely that a child is going to be comfortable putting a food in the mouth.
Part of establishing this comfort level is having those foods and therefore the smells regularly appearing. The more we are around the smell the more likely we are to become comfortable with them.
We can support this by having our picky eater around foods not just at the table but as part of everyday life. Oranges in a fruit bowl for example.
Touching a food.
Often this is a really easy step for picky eaters but not always. For some children touching certain foods can be really challenging.
Being confident around a food and being able to touch it and handle it is important. If we don't even have that level of comfort there is little chance of it making it into our mouth!
Shopping, growing, cooking and serving foods are all great ways to give our children the opportunity to touch new foods away from the table.
If our child is happy to handle foods at the table then that's great and the more we do it the more comfortable we become with that food.
Yesterday we talked about having the new foods we want our child to eat on the table.
The next logical step is of course on the plate.
Our child has to become as familiar as possible with a new food to maximise the chances that they will learn to eat it.
One of my favourite phrases is "if it's not on the plate it can't get eaten". Again I know this is obvious but it's something we often give up on far too soon. If we're not seeing immediate results it seems like a waste of time.
If having new foods on the plate is distressing then we need to spend time with our child building that comfort level. It's also often supportive to have them put foods on the plate themselves - rather than us plonking them down! This is something I spend a lot of time working on during a workshop with parents.
Tomorrow let's look at the Third Step to eating. Now what could that be?
Having a logical plan to follow is a large part of success when it comes to supporting our children to eat widely and well.
This week we'll look at 7 steps to eating.
The first is that the food is put on the table. I know, I know it seems ridiculously obvious. And it is. But a lot of eating well is logical and simple. It's a question of rinsing and repeating and doing it calmly month in, month out.
The first step to wanting to eat something is developing a basic comfort level with its look and its smell. This means that foods have to be in plain sight repeatedly.
Start with just having the foods we want our children to eat on the table.
If our child is really sensitive to smells or phobic about the look of certain foods then we may have to do some work on that first. However, for the majority of picky eaters this is a really easy step and therefore there is nothing stopping us doing this all the time.
Tomorrow we'll look at the Second Step to eating.
Judith is passionate about good food and is even more passionate about enabling other people to enjoy the wide variety of fresh food available today.