By: Jennifer Berry, MS, OT/L

9 Ways to Keep the Holiday Enjoyable for Kids and the Whole Family

  • Focus on the togetherness: What goes in your little one’s mouth or belly isn’t the point of this holiday and shouldn’t be the focus of any meal. Shift your focus to fun and togetherness versus nutritional value or quantity consumed.
  • Ditch the diet talk: Talking about diets keeps you and everyone from enjoying what they are eating. Diet talk from adults makes kids think something is wrong with them if they are just eating and enjoying.  Plus we know from decades of scientific research that diets do not work. When kids are surrounded by dieting they themselves become more likely to have a problem related to food/weight/ self-esteem later in life.
  • Don’t push kids to try foods they aren’t comfortable with: Research shows that kids who are forced or coerced to eat certain foods end up eating less of them later in life. Don’t do that to adults either… imagine someone prodding you to try your least favorite food.  No fun!
  • Don’t restrict access to the sweets and snacks:  Other studies show that when we restrict kids access to food available they end up wanting more and more of those things.  It backfires.  Even if they get a belly ache it is an opportunity for them to learn to listen to what their wise body is telling them. Choices about your child’s nutrition should be made at the grocery store not at the holiday party.
  • Limit the way you label foods: When we talk to kids about  foods being “good” or “bad” or “healthy” and “unhealthy” it makes them hard to hear what their body’s need.  Evidence suggests that kids, when not bombarded with labels, pressure, or adult interference, are way better at making choices around food then we give them credit for.  If they feel they are choosing a “bad” food that they want, they may think they are themselves bad… a dangerous recipe for shame.
  • Prepare Yourself: When appropriate discuss some of these approaches to mealtimes with family members ahead of time so that you have less to field on the day of the holiday.  Most people are just doing what they know and are open to hearing how they can help you help your little one.
  • Speak-Up: If there is a family member who won’t stop talking about their body in a negative way or worse than that…commenting on other’s bodies, be prepared with a few helpful comments like “I think Shay is perfect just the way she is”.  If that doesn’t work change the subject by talking about a mutual interest or topic.  If your child is getting pressure around food that isn’t inline with what you know to be best (“you have to try your green bean casserole before you can have more pie”) try a simple “Every family handles food differently.  In our family we won’t have that same rule”.  If you of your child simply don’t feel safe or respected around certain company, simply don’t go.  You get to chose who you surround your child and yourself with.
  • Accept what you cannot change: Assuming everyone is feeling safe and comfortable it may be that despite your distraction and diplomatic attempts a family member continues to make comments about dieting, demeans their own body, or engages in unhealthy feeding practices with their own kids.  It can be helpful to ask your kids what their thoughts are after the holiday.  If they noticed or have questions, you can help them by debriefing using simple language that reinforces the positive messages you chose around food. 
  • Eat what sounds good to YOU: You deserve to find comfort and satisfaction in what you eat on Thanksgiving and every day.  So do your kids.  Remember you are perfect just the size and shape you are.  You are so much more than what you eat. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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