I absolutely adore everything about Christmas: all the amazing quality time together with family and friends, the excitement building day-by-day with the kids, wrapping and giving presents, the tree, the house decorations, nativity plays and carols and, of course – the FOOD! I’ve written blogs before about how I approach Christmas as a nutritionist and how to wean your baby at Christmas but today I wanted to round-up all my best advice into one bumper blog to help you survive the festive season whilst hopefully really enjoying all the food-related fun that this time of year brings.
Before I start, though, I wanted to really stress that Christmas is above all one of those moments of the year when you should definitely just be enjoying time with your little ones. Please don’t worry about following all the advice below to the letter or trying to stick too rigidly to any plan: I’ve set out this guide with the aim of supporting you, not to add any extra stress!
Having said that, I do think that at times of the year like Christmas when we’re all particularly busy, a bit of extra reassurance can be helpful. So, with that in mind, below is my guide to everything you need to know about feeding your kids at Christmas. I hope you find it helpful – and most importantly of all, I hope you have the most wonderful Christmas with your little ones.
Make the most of family Christmas food
Benefit from eating as a family…
Let’s face it, food has a heavy presence around the Christmas period and this really can be an excellent thing, whether you have a fussy eater or not. First of all, the act of simply EATING TOGETHER can be really helpful for little ones to see and learn about the joy that food can bring to others. The concepts of conviviality and commensality – essentially enjoying time together around food and the social aspect of eating – is often never felt more than at Christmas time. I’ve written a bit more about these concepts and why eating together is important.
Therefore, Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy eating together as a family whenever possible, with everyone taking part in the all-important social aspects of eating, which can really help with food acceptance and food enjoyment.
Make the most of the varied foods…
Christmas isn’t all about chocolates and crisps! There are so many delicious elements to a traditional Christmas lunch for a start: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, peas, cranberry sauce, stuffing, meats, roasts – and sprouts! Funnily enough, Raffy has always loved sprouts as we’ve always talked about them as a Christmas tradition, so he’s always thought of sprouts as quite a special food!
You can offer so much variety in all your family Christmas meals, not just Christmas lunch on 25 December. And it needn’t be complicated food, either.
I like doing sharing boards at this time of the year with things like veggie sticks, oatcakes and hummus, crackers, cheese, tangerines and quartered grapes and letting everyone help themselves to a bit of what they fancy. This is one of the best perks about eating at Christmas – you can have lots of buffets and party platters on the go which encourage children to relax a bit more around food, enjoy the social aspect and to also expose them to a wide variety of colours, tastes and textures of foods.
I have written in detail about this in my blog on how picnic foods can be good for fussy eaters and this can translate into buffet style meals around Christmas.
One of the other things that often happens is that mealtime pressures are reduced as everyone is busy and less focused on individual children, so there is less pressure and likely more relaxed mealtimes for your little ones, which can again go to make mealtimes around this time of year a much more pleasant experience for little ones.
Use it as a time for role-modelling…
At Christmas gatherings, there are often grandparents or extra friends or relatives in tow – take advantage of your extra support network to help demonstrate to your children how to learn skills, eat a balance of foods and even more importantly how to enjoy foods. They will mimic their loved ones around them and learn from you all. Read more about grandparents and relatives below!
Weaning Your Baby at Christmas
Bring Baby into the mealtimes…
If you’re lucky enough to be weaning at Christmas, you can use it as a perfect time to help your little one to explore and try a variety of foods, as well as a fab experience for them to take part in fun, family meals. Try to bring your baby into those mealtimes – even if they aren’t weaning as yet, so they get to take part in the joys of mealtimes. I’ve written in the past about my top tips for including your baby in family meals – and Christmas is a lovely time to do just that and start making some special new memories and traditions together around meals.
Give baby the varied foods on offer…
Although some parents might be nervous about weaning their baby over Christmas, there is no need to be – it’s actually a great time of the year to do it! Do remember those foods you should avoid giving to babies under one year of age but other than that there is often SUCH a plethora of perfect foods available. Whether you’re BLW or offering purees, there will hopefully be plenty of veggies, potatoes, meats etc that you can offer to your baby at the same time you’re eating.
You can also treat them to Baby’s First Christmas Dinner – see the recipes below for more ideas for babies and toddlers. Do just keep an eye out on salt levels to ensure your baby isn’t having added salt in their meals at this time.
How to cope with fussy eaters at Christmas
Get some help before you enter the festive season.
I know all too well the strain that fussy eating can put on families – and strain is the last thing families hope for at Christmas time. If you are struggling with a fussy eater at the moment, try to set aside some time to read my factsheet on how to cope with fussy eating or, for more in-depth support, take my fussy eating crash course. It will provide you with reassurance, key strategies and tips you can start implementing right now. If you can, try to see Christmas as a time to take the pressure off: use my mealtime language tips to help with fussy eaters and consider the importance of mealtime environments, too.
Make it about the fun…
Christmas is the perfect excuse to try to make mealtimes extra fun for little ones. Setting the table with crackers or a few extra decorations (let them help with this), playing Christmas music and chattering away about reindeer, penguins, elves or whatever Christmas character is their favourite – these can all help mealtimes sparkle and keep the mood light. There are so many ways to help your child to love food without even eating it, too – especially at this time of the year. Try potato stamping stars onto homemade Christmas cards or gift tags, make gingerbread biscuits or easy edible gifts like oatcakes together, or visit a Christmas food market and buy tasty treats for friends and family. Most importantly, try to make food around Christmas time FUN and Pressure Free.
Dealing with the sweet foods at this time of year
Sweet foods and Christmas often go hand in hand and although no parent should feel guilty about their child eating a little more cake or chocolate at this time of year, it still pays to understand the guidance on consumption of sugar for babies and children. Ideally for babies who aren’t aware of chocolates and sweeties, there is really no need to offer them…but once they become familiar and have desires for those foods, it’s best not to overtly restrict them as it might make those foods even more desirable to them.
Remember the bigger picture: one day or two of out-of-whack eating isn’t going to make a big difference to overall patterns. It’s the long-term, day-to-day eating at mealtimes that counts, not what happens at Christmas, or any other time of the year for that matter.
If you do decide that you want to limit the amount of sugar that your little ones consume, that’s OK too, but it’s good to try and do it covertly so that it’s not really obvious to your little ones that they are being restricted e.g. don’t have so much in the house, keep snacks out of reach, avoid having chocolates available for grazing on all day.
My personal approach is to treat sweet foods the same as any other food. That way, my two don’t consider them as ‘off-limits’ and thus hugely more desirable than any other food (which can lead to over-eating when they DO get offered them). I don’t make a fuss nor over-emphasise anything positive or negative about sweets – and by keeping all foods on an even playing field, I aim to make all foods equally enjoyable.
Here are some more tips on how I approach it:
- Not make a big deal of the presence of these foods
- Role modelling the enjoyment of eating a balance myself
- 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
- Stick to specific times of the day for “snacks” or offer high-sugar options at eating occasions such as with lunch, snacks or puddings.
- Letting them decide HOW MUCH they eat at those sittings, without restriction, pressure or coercion 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 as meals and snacks e.g. Sprouts? Parsnips? Yorkshires? Alongside other foods you have less regularly.
You can read more about this in my blog: how I approach Christmas as a child nutritionist.
Why does my child’s school or nursery feed them more sweets at Christmas?
Hands up if your child’s school or nursery offers puddings or sweets that you don’t agree with? It can be very frustrating for some parents. Christmas is certainly a time when more chocolate coins can find their way to your little ones, whether or not you’re happy with this. I’ve written a little bit about why your child’s nursery offers puddings in my blog so do have a read if you’d like some advice on how best to approach this.
How to handle friends and family (and grandparents) feeding your kids this Christmas
Ok! This is such a delicate and thorny issue – but Christmas is one of those times of the year when visiting friends and family can often help out with feeding your little ones. And isn’t it often the case that great minds don’t necessarily think alike when it comes to how you’d prefer your children to be fed? From the timing of meals and mealtime language, to what’s actually on the plate, meals can often become really tricky when parents receive unsolicited advice or differing opinions about how to feed their children.
Of course most comments you receive are meant to be well-intentioned BUT if you would like some advice on grandparents (or other friends and family) feeding your children, my blog can (discreetly) offer some solutions and tips to help you tackle this particular hot potato!
One thing I really like to recommend is having conversations beforehand with family members e.g.
- “we’re working on increasing her food intakes at the moment and it’s going really well, but we’re not going to be too worried about what she does or doesn’t eat on Christmas day. We hope you can accept that.”
- “We’ve been getting advice on his eating and what we’re trying right now is to not overly focus on his food choices, we’d love it if you could help us do that too.”
- “We understand that Sarah eats very differently to Xander and that’s great, we’d prefer it if comments about how the kids are eating are off the table for the next few days, if that’s OK?”
- The other thing you can do is have some pre-planned responses that help you move on from unsolicited advice without any family dramas, for example
- “I appreciate your thoughts on this. Thank you.”
- “I can see your point of view, that doesn’t work for us. Thank you though.”
Baby and toddler Christmas recipes and family-friendly festive food
I have SO many recipes on my blog for this time of year, so make sure you check them out, try some with the kids and the family and let me know how you get on.
I have many favourite recipes that I return to every year and you can browse a full round-up here of all my favourite Christmas recipes for all the family.
But for more Christmas Baby and Toddler Inspo, why not try out some of these:
- This delicious toddler-friendly Mince Pie Recipe
- Christmas Snowballs that I make with the kids
- These NO added sugar Gingerbread men OR lower sugar gingerbread men (which include a little sugar)
- My figgy porridge fingers
- These lovely cranberry and pistachio spiced biscuits
- I also love these Christmas dinner balls from @at_Dads_Table
- And don’t forget a simple baby’s Christmas dinner is just having parts of the meal in strips or sticks or mashed! baby’s first Christmas dinner
So, there you have it – my Christmas survival guide. Most of all, do remember the greatest tip of all for ANYTHING to do with Christmas (and not just food!): don’t worry about trying to make it all perfect. More than any other detail, the very best thing about Christmas is the time you get to spend with each other. Once your little ones hear those magic reindeer hooves on your roof, nothing else really matters and everything will just fall perfectly into place! So try not to worry, enjoy this special season and have a wonderful Christmas time with your little ones x