Happy holidays: how to navigate the Christmas meal with children

Ideas for a stress-free Christmas meal with kids

The Christmas meal on the 25th December, really offers us the chance to put our stamp on it and make new memories and traditions with our children. Cooking and baking are some great ways to do this. Remember that food is more than just nutrition. The social element of sharing and giving food and being with friends and family is so important too.

Tips for a stress-free Christmas meal with kids

Include some familiar foods

There will likely be some unfamiliar foods on offer over Christmas (for us brussels sprouts don’t make a common appearance during the winter months!). Don’t stress if they don’t pile them high on their plate. Instead include some commonly accepted foods which could be simple side dishes to make sure there is something familiar for their taste buds. My eldest son usually opts for sweetcorn and potatoes on his plate. 

Christmas Day in 2017. My eldest son barely ate a bite!
Christmas Day in 2017. My eldest son barely ate a bite!

Set realistic expectations

Christmas is so exciting for children! They’re thinking about the crackers that need pulling, sparkly decorations and new toys to play with! Be realistic about how long they may sit at the dining table (and spread that vibe to other family members too to eliminate any judgment and eye rolls!).

Don’t restrict certain foods

Now is not the time for dishing out nutrition lessons on reasons why they should ‘eat their greens’, nor is it a good idea to restrict certain foods such as puddings. See Christmas as a positive experience and an opportunity for children to embrace and enjoy all foods. Even if they are selective about what goes on their plate, it’s still a great chance for them to have exposure to unfamiliar foods. In time they may become more accepting. 

Offer a balanced breakfast

Providing a balanced breakfast and a mid-morning snack can set children up well for the busy day ahead and avoid any hunger-induced meltdowns at the Christmas meal! 

We will be starting the day with a stack of fluffy pancakes and a variety of toppings.

Be mindful of mealtime language

Avoid any commentary on your children’s food choices. Remove any guilt and let them eat and enjoy.

Commenting on a child’s portion size has the potential to induce anxiety regarding their food intake, possibly leading to the unintended consequence of them rejecting food altogether.

Consider this helpful mealtime activity

Usually, I would suggest removing toys, tablets and other distractions from mealtimes, so kids can focus on the food on their plate. However, on Christmas Day these colouring-in placemats and posters from Meri Meri have served us well. It’s a nice way to keep the kids at the table a little longer. Make sure to be well-stocked with pens and crayons!

Check out my previous blog on a Christmas gift guide to the best children’s cookbooks. It includes some nice reads to share over the dinner table. 

Relax and Enjoy

Remember to relax and enjoy the moment. Christmas is about spending time together, and the meal is just one part of the celebration. If things don’t go exactly as planned, focus on being with your loved ones instead.

What can I do before the big day to make the Christmas meal easier?

Get kids involved in food preparation, baking and cooking. Or any food-related job that means they have exposure to a variety of foods but away from the dining table where they can feel pressure to eat. Will you make mince pies? Or a gingerbread house? We love using these cutters and stamps every year for gingerbread men and biscuits.

What other jobs can they help with? Tearing up wintery herbs such as rosemary and sage for your favourite Christmas recipes is a great task to save you a job!

Consider in advance what jobs you could give to the kids on Christmas Day. Such as laying the table with cutlery, napkins, and crackers and getting them to design place names.

Have a chat with well-meaning family members before the big day if you think they’re likely to make unwelcome comments about what your children will or won’t eat. Or perhaps your child’s body has changed a lot since they last saw relatives and you’re feeling uneasy about how to politely dismiss their unsolicited advice. Tackle this well before sitting down for the Christmas meal.

Should I be worried about my child’s sugar intake at Christmas?

When your children are still at an age where they don’t realise sugary foods exist (e.g. chocolate and cake) then I wouldn’t specially introduce them just because others around them are enjoying these foods. 

Remember that it’s okay if your children are super excited about opening up their chocolate-filled advent calendar each morning, it doesn’t mean that they are ‘obsessed’ or ‘addicted’, it is exciting! Just get them back into their usual routine again after Boxing day.  A couple of days won’t harm the good work you’ve done in developing positive nutrition habits. Remember we are in this for the long game!

Encourage your children to listen to their bodies and look out for feelings of fullness and eating to their appetite. Ultimately let your children see you eat and enjoy a range of foods too, as you’re their best role model.

I ran a recent webinar with parents from a UK-based nursery chain on the topic “A parent’s guide for a happy and healthy Christmas season for children” and it really resonated with parents. Do you struggle with feeding your children at this time of year? I’d love to know.

As you throw yourself into the Christmas festivities, take a moment to cherish the excitement of little helping hands and smiling faces!

From my family to yours, may your Christmas be filled with love, laughter and happiness.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas.

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