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BY Chris

15 Holiday Eating Tips that can Help your Child with Special Needs

The holiday season is here and that means kitchens across the world are firing up with delectable dishes and scrumptious sweets. Traditional family dishes and specialties that tend to be more vibrant in flavor and texture are often whipped up for everyone’s enjoyment. Some of these dishes may prove to be very difficult for children to eat because of picky-eating tendencies or oral tactile defensiveness.

In addition, it’s important to remember that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can place additional stress on children and affect their ability to eat. Schedules are altered to take part in busy holiday traditions and to allow visits with family and friends both nearby and far away. Often, bright holiday lights and sounds flood the visual and auditory environment. The combined effect may put children on edge, increasing their difficulty with eating as their sensory systems become increasingly stressed, fatigued, and disorganized.

These challenges don’t have to add holiday stress. There are many strategies that parents can employ to help their children successfully try new foods. Here are

1. Be patient.

2. Stick to your regular routine as much as possible. Children who get off-schedule can often become overwhelmed and have a difficult time calming.

3. Minimize changes as much as possible. Try to include at least one food you are sure the child will eat that fits the holiday theme.

4. Prepare your child in advance. Discuss holiday plans and traditional holiday foods 2-4 weeks in advance.

5. Allow extra time at the table. Avoid rushing children to try new foods or forcing them to finish the food on their plate.

6. Avoid making holiday events or activities contingent on what they eat. (e.g. “If you eat this you can open a present or have a cookie”.)

7. Allow children to eat before the adults, as the dinner table may be too busy and loud for a child.

8. Try not to make children wait for the holiday mealtime. Keeping them on their normal eating schedule will help decrease the chances of them becoming cranky, upset, or frustrated.

9. Have children sit with the rest of the family at the main mealtime, but don’t expect them to eat much more than what they ate prior to joining the adults at the table.

10. Offer preferred foods when it’s their usual time to eat.

11. Place small amounts of new food on the child’s plate.

12. Use as many familiar eating utensils, plates, cups, placemats as possible to help decrease anxiety when trying new foods.

13. Limit sweets, which suppress appetite.

14. Encourage and praise children for trying new foods.

15. Have children assist with preparing the food to increase their interest in trying what they helped to make. Practice making holiday food prior to the holiday for familiarity.

A little patience and planning can make mealtime much easier every day, but it’s particularly important on special days when there’s a lot more going on for the child to contend with. Have a fantastic holiday season!

By Jason Ferrise, MOT/OTRL & Chris Purgatori, MOT/OTRL. Jason and Chris are Occupational Therapists at the Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, Inc.

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Written on November 27, 2013 by:

Chris Purgatori, MOT, OTRL is an occupational therapist at the Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, West Bloomfield, Michigan. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from Michigan State University and a B.A. in Health Science from Wayne State University. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from WSU. When he’s not coaching young kids in the OT gym at the KCC, Chris coaches high school varsity boys on the soccer fields at Rochester High School.

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