The Secret to Peaceful Holiday Eating with Kids

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on December 24, 2010

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With many families sitting down to holiday dinners this weekend, 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 bugs us).
Big A, my 4 year old, has never eaten much at dinner, especially when we eat at my mother-in-laws or it’s a special occasion, like the holidays.  Since she’s gotten older, we follow the advice by Ellyn Satter and ask her to sit with us whether or not she chooses to eat.
This has caused some tension which can make mealtimes away from home less pleasant, which is exactly what I don’t want.  So I reached out to Dr. Katja Rowell from Family Feeding Dynamics for advice.  And she revealed the secret to success
Find out the why?
I would try to explore why she doesn’t want to sit at your mother-in-laws. 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.
Make it about family time, not the food 
A preschooler may only be asked to sit for five minutes or so. 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.” Ask the other adults to not make a fuss over her eating or level of socializing.

If it doesn’t happen that frequently — relax!
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. Kids can deal with and make up for that, versus it happening every day in the home. 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.
Have a great holiday!
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