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Tantrum-Free Holiday Meals for Picky Eaters

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Children’s Speech Therapy Center

Dear Children’s Speech Therapy Center,

My 4-year-old is a picky eater and the holidays are coming. How can I make sure our holiday dinners are pleasant and relatively tantrum-free?

— Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

Holidays can be a whirlwind of fun and chaos, with food stuck right in the middle! This time can still be a joyous adventure for you and your family, despite picky eating and a fear of new foods. Let’s start with some strategies to help set yourself and your 4-year old up for success.

First, talk to your child ahead of time. Prepare and reassure your child that there will be many new foods, but not to worry because you will be there to help her. Take the pressure off your child by explaining that it is her choice if she wants to eat certain foods or not. By removing the pressure and setting the expectations in advance, you will avoid surprises or unexpected outcomes. You may also want to role-play with some appropriate ways to accept and refuse foods.

Second, if you are able to, casually talk to a few family members ahead of time. Give them the opportunity to offer their advice prior to the meal, so that later everyone can focus on the meal. Our children know when the topic of discussion at dinner is about them, and they don’t like it. So let’s make sure when we’re talking about your child, it’s about what she’s doing at preschool instead of what she’s not eating at the dinner table

Third, make enough for everyone. Usually, the item I bring is something I know I can eat, share, and enjoy. This way, your child will have something to eat without having her own special plate. While you’re at it, invite your child in the kitchen. Part of the reason our problem feeders struggle is because these foods are new or different. By bringing your child into the process and giving her the confidence to help you prepare the meal, you are familiarizing her with the sights, smells, and textures of each food. Put yourself in her little shoes. The sweet potato in the store looks and feels far different than when it is mashed, baked, fried or put into a yummy sweet potato pie. It is hard for her young mind to make sense of this without seeing the process.

Fourth, encourage family style meals. Meals where everyone is able to serve themselves, gives your child the opportunity to practice decision making and experience foods without necessarily eating them. I also recommend putting a large spoon and a small spoon in each item. This strategy is from Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP of She recommends calling the large spoon the “Yes, please!” serving spoon while the small spoon, is the “Just a Bite” spoon. You can assist as needed, while your child serves herself the foods and portions she wants.

Finally, create a new tradition with your child. Take this time to tell traditional or family stories about the holidays. Re-enact these stories to help her come alive by role-playing and discussing how and why things happened. This will help foster her language development while creating something together.

Susan Morgan, MS, CCC-SLP


Children’s Speech Therapy Center (CSTC) is a well-known private practice specializing in pediatric speech therapy and conveniently located in Ashburn, VA. When your child needs a speech and language professional, navigating all your options can be time-consuming and frustrating!

Let Children’s Speech Therapy Center help! Their team provides diagnostic and therapeutic services including screenings, evaluations, and therapy for all ages, from infancy to adolescence. From more routine challenges to complex conditions, their team of licensed and accredited speech language pathologists are prepared to help with your child's unique speech and language needs.

Learn more, including what insurances they accept, by connecting: Online | Facebook | Services | FAQs | Contact.

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