We all know how crazy the party season gets! Would you love to feel at ease with what your kids are eating over the holiday season? Navigating party season confidently for kids (let alone working out what to eat) means that they need to get practice. Making nutritious food choices is a long-term game and it is not ruined by attending a party or two at Christmas. In fact, experience in handling parties is important.
Nutritious party starters
If you are concerned about excessive lolly and chip intake at the beginning of your own party, provide nutritious alternatives as starters instead. So, if they fill up on the fruit platter, cheese, crackers, meatballs, homemade sausage rolls, veggie sticks or dip, you aren’t concerned if they aren’t interested in the main meal. Plus, you will know those foods give them the sustenance to make it through to the next meal. You can always serve the lollies and chips later.
Plan for the prior meal occasion
If you know there’s a high likelihood of junk foods at the party you are about to attend, don’t forbid that food at the time as this will only make it more desirable to your child. AND your negative tone will stress you out too. Instead, try offering a range of nutritious options at the meal you have before the party. So, for breakfast serve some eggs for protein with fruit, dairy, vegetables and wholegrains. Or for example, at lunch, give an extra side of vegetable sticks with hummus for that vegetable and protein kick. Also, have something nutritious on hand at home like some frozen zucchini slice, banana muffins or a simple bowl of frozen peas. Sometimes kids get home from a party and they didn’t eat enough (due to how busy they were) and you can have this go-to nutritious snack ready for them to enjoy.
Let go of “how much” and “whether” they are eating
As parents, it is our job to offer the what, when and where of food. At a party, that role does get taken off us by the party host to an extent. Don’t fret, as this loss of responsibility doesn’t happen all the time. Yet, it is still important to remember that the child’s mealtime responsibility does not change. They are still in charge of how much and whether they are going to eat what is on offer. However, restricting what is on offer during the event (especially when they can see what others are eating) should only be done with good reason (eg. choking hazards, allergies or other medical reasons). If you cross over into the child’s area of responsibility and start telling them “whether” they are going to eat a given food, this is when stress and battles occur.
Let them serve their own meals
Give children the autonomy to serve how much they would like from the meals on offer. Remembering that at a party, their arousal (excitement) levels are heightened. This can result in hanging out with the food table more (as an avoidance strategy) OR they could be more likely to want to continue playing rather than eat. Bombarding the child with a loaded plate of food (even though they eat that much at home) may back-fire for you. Let them choose the amounts of foods they want on their plate starting with an empty plate.
Provide safe opt-out strategies
If your child is a cautious eater, they may need a clear strategy to engage with unfamiliar foods in the party environment. And they will also need to know that it is ok to opt-out of eating them if it gets too hard. Remember not all new foods taste like what you expect they will.
Safe-opt outs include things like:
- Providing a serviette to spit into discretely (this can be practiced at home in advance).
- Letting them know that they can leave food on the top corner of their plate or on a side plate.
- Giving them a wipe so that they can clean their hands when they need to.
- Bringing their cutlery from home that they know how to use.
- Making sure they have a familiar water bottle alongside so they can take a sip after they taste, lick or eat a new food.
- Make sure they don’t feel pressured from other people to try things that they don’t feel comfortable with.
Most of all, I hope you have a very fun, safe and merry holiday season.
Children’s feeding specialist from Play with Food
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