With many families sitting down to dinners throughout the holidays, I can already hear the food battles.
“You have to eat some of your turkey before you get dessert”
“3 more bites and you’re done”
“That’s all you’re eating, get back here!”
The holidays can be particularly hard because there’s so much going on. There’s more snacking. More distractions. And many kids simply don’t want to eat the meal adults spent so much time preparing (and that really hard for parents).
When kids don’t eat away from home
Big A, my 4-year-old has never eaten much at dinner, especially when we eat at my mother-in-law’s or it’s a special occasion, like the holidays.
Since she’s gotten older, we ask her to join the family table but she rarely eats.
This has caused some tension which can make mealtimes away from home unpleasant, which is exactly what I don’t want.
So I reached out to the feeding doctor Dr. Katja Rowell for advice.
Find out the why?
“I would try to explore why she doesn’t want to sit at your mother-in-law’s,” said Rowell. “Is she being pressured to eat? Being shamed, rewarded, singled-out in any way? Are there other kids around that she is eager to play with? Is eating at mother-in-laws frequent or rare? Is it a Holiday where kids are snacking on appetizers or full of Christmas cookies? All these things and more need to be taken into account.”
I knew it was the snacking that usually occurs. So I started talking to her about “saving her appetite for dinner” when she snacks and it has helped.
Make it about family time, not the food
Rowell agreed that asking her to sit for meals was reasonable. But I wondered how long we should ask her to sit.
“A preschooler may only be asked to sit for five minutes or so,” she said. “I wouldn’t insist on them talking, but I would say something like: You are an important part of this family, and we’d like you to keep us company at the table. You don’t need to eat anything, but dinner is over when you leave the table.”
And the last thing she said made a lot of sense. “Ask the other adults to not make a fuss over her eating or level of socializing.”
So I talked to my adult family members asking them not to make a big deal about what she eats and I noticed a big difference. She would sit for longer and actually eat some food.
If it doesn’t happen that frequently — relax!
Rowell touched on something I knew was true, it wasn’t a frequent occurrence so I could relax a bit.
“I do think the issue is different when it comes to the weekly dinner with Grammy or a Holiday party with all the excitement and snacking,” she said. “Kids can deal with and make up for that, versus it happening every day in the home.”
This is especially true at the holidays which only come once a year. Do we really want them to be about food fights? I decided to focus more on traditions and decorating the house and table, things my daughter was always very excited about. Rowell said it perfectly:
Holidays are a special time, and kids get that. Relax, let them snack and savor the excitement of the season rather than spoil a special day with fights about food.
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This post was updated from December 2010!