Dealing with pint-sized picky eaters during holiday hubbub

With house guests and other company, disrupted wake-up and bedtime routines, and the sheer excitement of presents under the tree, it can be hard to make sure little ones are fueled up on more than just adrenaline and candy canes.

On any day of the year, how to craftily, creatively cajole “just one more bite?” from a child shaking her head in somber, steadfast, defiant refusal can be a challenge. But holidays can be the marathon-equivalent of struggle-to-finish. And it ranges from kids who dislike the trifecta of red holiday foods (cranberries, candied apples, and pickled beets) to those who more vaguely turn up their noses at vegetables, squishy things, or anything that “tastes funny” according to their own frustratingly quirky criteria.

Parents of picky eaters can find comfort in numbers. An NPR report last year by Richard Harris indicated that 20 percent of kids are picky eaters and also suggested that most grow out of it. For many little ones, like fear of the dark or shyness around strangers, at best, it’s simply a phase and at worst, it usually improves.

Still, for those in the middle of I don’t want any of that!” Christmastime can often be made merrier (and more nutritious) with a little strategizing and “repackaging.” For example, The Mom 365 blog posted “10 Great Holiday Foods for Picky Eaters.” Some of it is in the food, she points out, but some of it is in the framing of the food. For example, she suggests pitching sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top as “dessert at dinner.” Another tip is to try introducing foods more than one way, for example, putting cranberries in Jell-O.

Similarly, Parents magazine online published “Tricks for Feeding Holiday Picky Eaters.” Reporter Madonna Behen interviewed Annette Bartz, R.D., a clinical dietician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, who suggests doing a trial run of special holiday foods. She says that when serving new dishes “it's best to do so at a time when there's minimal stress—and that usually isn't the case at a holiday meal.” The article goes on to suggest that a week or so ahead of time, “try serving that roasted butternut squash or green beans with almonds dish at a regular dinner, when there is less pressure and chaos.”

In a report titled “Helping Picky Eaters Make It Through the Holidays,” by Monica Alberts for news station KDLT, in Sioux Falls, S.D., The Speech Mom Andrea Boerigter, says, “you can also ‘convince’ your kids to try new foods by showing how other people they trust are trying new foods. Maybe having your child sit next to their favorite cousin who’s eating the green bean casserole will encourage them to try it, too.”

For those traveling to the food vs. serving it up, Robin Ray Green, a Chinese medicine practitioner, recently offered “5 Ways to Survive the Holiday with Extremely Picky Eaters,” including tips helpful to virtually any parent, such as (possibly) feeding your child before you go, checking ahead to see what’s on the menu, bringing your own food, putting samples on kids’ plates so they can explore, and sticking to your usual rules. On this last one she gives this example: “They have to sit politely at the table, even if they don’t eat, until they’re excused. The food stays on the plate. They have to eat something healthy before dessert.”

With a little luck, amid all the glow and sparkle of the season, one more forkful of “something” may be less resisted than usual. After all, Santa’s watching!