The same way as everyone else, that’s HOW!
I absolutely love Christmas, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. It’s the time off, the excitement, the family time, the sharing of gifts, the joy – I can’t wait! And this year I’m trying to take some time off and spend some quality time with my little family. I’ve written a blog all about Christmas Gifts and Activities around Food and I’ll be spending some time on those fun activities, as well as hopefully doing some more baking with Raffy too.
However, I know for some of you that you often worry about young children and the situation around FOOD at Christmas time. So I thought I’d share a blog about how I approach food and the higher sugar/salt options that are often readily available at this time of year. I want to point out that this is absolutely not a “perfect” way and every family will have their own way of coping with foods on offer over Christmas time. This is simply my way of approaching it, based on my experience, research and personal reactions from my own kids too.
The most important thing to remember is that this is just one day or one week of the year, and it’s not likely to derail your hard work on creating a little one who loves their food! SO first and foremost try not to worry and let them explore a bit and have fun!
What’s the deal about food at Christmas?
When it comes to food at Christmas time, I try and be really relaxed with Raffy around the higher sugar and higher salt options that are on offer, inevitably at this time of year. I know from research that the more you put pressure on kids or the more that you restrict these kinds of foods, the more likely they are to desire them and potentially eat them in excess when they are available.
My thought process around offering these foods at this time of year
- Raffy doesn’t have these foods all too often because we simply don’t have them in the house much, so having a few days where they are eaten a lot at this time of year won’t have an impact on his long-term nutrition or his relationship with foods.
- If I restrict these foods overtly (obviously) and he notices, it’s going to make him want them more – the Holy Grail effect.
- He needs to practise his OWN autonomy around eating these foods and learn himself when he’s had enough, rather than continuing to eat PAST his appetite cues, simply because he knows they’ll be restricted on another occasion.
- Restricting them and having them ONLY around at Christmas encourages food hierarchy as these types of food will be associated MORE with fun times. Therefore it’s not going to be ideal to overtly restrict the eating of these foods throughout the year either. If they are there and he’s offered some he has them & eats more or less what he feels he wants (more often than not he tells me he doesn’t want anymore and hands them back to me – this is from years of practising the above..).
- However, we do try to offer these foods alongside meals and other foods. We don’t overly emphasise excitement at them being offered and we talk positively about all foods offered in the same way.
- I don’t need to offer them to Ada as she isn’t AWARE of what they are and therefore doesn’t feel she’s being restricted from having a certain type of food. Once she does know and is aware of them, I’d avoid overtly restricting them, but personally I would try to covertly (subtly) limit them for her as she is younger (and under 2!).
Overt Restriction is: restriction that is obvious and the child is aware of e.g. “you can only have one”.
Covert Restriction is: restriction that isn’t obvious and the child is unlikely to be aware of e.g. not having the foods around often or not offering them daily.
Pressure/restriction – what this really means is so variable from child to child, but ultimately anything that your little one interprets as being pressure or restrictive is as such. It’s not ideal for us to practise obvious pressure or restriction as parents around foods. Research shows pressure or restriction often has the exact opposite effect to what we want, especially in the long run. E.g. if we want to restrict sweets so our kids don’t eat much, it’s likely to make them want them and enjoy them more.
What do I do on occasions such as Christmas?
- Not make a big deal of the presence of these foods as well as acting quite nonchalantly about whether they are or aren’t eaten. The more fuss you make and attention you draw, the more they are likely to be desired and the more likely it is that your kid will over eat them.
- Role modelling the enjoyment of eating a balance myself and expressing when I’ve had enough of something, for example! “Oh I can’t eat any more of that now, I’ll save some for another time”.
- Offering a variety and including some other less high sugar foods such as crackers, cheese, oatcakes, tangerines, fresh fruits, chopped nuts and raisins around at similar times so they also become traditional foods to eat and enjoy at Christmas. If you can do things like roast chestnuts on open fires, apple bobbing or bake some foods together that can help encourage excitement and fun around other foods too. Check out my lower sugar recipes to bake with your little ones.
- Ideally I’ll stick to specific times of the day for “snacks” or offer high sugar options at eating occasions such as with lunch, snacks or puddings, to reduce the impact of grazing all day. Of course Christmas day might be a bit of an exception to this, but often with kids they are also too busy playing to think about foods constantly anyway.
- Offer high sugar and high salt foods alongside other foods such as yogurt, fresh fruit, crackers to reduce impact on the teeth and to add in some nutrients (again, less of a problem if it’s just for ONE day of eating, but if your little one isn’t bothered by this and is keen for and used to a “snack” occasion this can be helpful.)
- Letting them decide HOW MUCH they eat at those sittings, without restriction, pressure or cohesion from me.
- Enjoy the Christmas dinner together and try to make a big deal of this. Offer plenty of the foods that your little ones enjoy for this meal? Gravy? Parsnips? Yorkshires? Raffy loves sprouts, interestingly as we always talk about them being a Christmas tradition. He loves gravy and Yorkshires too so he’ll have plenty of those. (N.B. remember under 1s aren’t recommended to have honey.)
Making Food Fun:
The other great thing about Christmas is having some time to play and bake together, I’m planning on tapping into these lower sugar sweet options to make with Raffy, but I also have a list of Food Related games and activities on my blog about Christmas gifts and activities for the kids.
Lastly a few tips for helping everyone to enjoy Christmas Dinner together:
- Involve kids in the meal prep – even if it’s just small? Making place names or helping to stir or carry things to the table can help them to feel more involved
- Offer plenty of variety – table buffets sometimes really help kids to get a bit more adventurous
- Keep it colourful – food, tablecloths, napkins – easy ways to add some joy and sparkle to the idea of Christmas dinner
- Let them serve themselves & choose what goes on their plates – this can help offer them autonomy and independence
- Offer the same foods as everyone else – avoid cooking them something separate and try to encourage them to get involved in the meal. Remember you can always say “that’s OK you don’t have to eat it” about any of the meal that they don’t want.
- Don’t focus on their food choices – let them eat what they want without comment (remember it’s just one meal)
- Keep the meal light and happy and avoid battles around food
- Let them pop the cracker straight away if they want to – the anticipation might make them a little frustrated otherwise
- Avoid worrying about the mess, especially with a baby!
- Let them see you enjoying it and having a great time with family – it’s more likely THIS will make them enjoy the mealtime and the food than any pressures to “eat up” will.
How do your Christmas dinners go? These are my thoughts on How Does a Child Nutritionist do Christmas. Please do send in any tips and thoughts on making the most of Christmas dinner if you get a chance – I’d love to hear from you!