Christmas is a time of year when routines can go out of the window and when food intake changes dramatically.
Toddlers need routine. They need routine to give them boundaries and they need boundaries to help them feel safe. A lack of routine often leads to a tired toddler and an emotional toddler as they try to work out who they are in this strange new world. This will impact their food. It may increase their pickiness; or it may cause them to eat less or to eat more.
So here are some tips to help you navigate this time of year:
Try to keep mealtimes at the same time
This can be challenging but it massively helps. If your meal is going to be later, try to give your child something else at their standard mealtime and let them play whilst you eat. If you time it right, they could have a snack whilst you eat your meal even. Take Christmas Day for example. Lots of toddlers eat between 11.30 and 12.30pm. Christmas dinner might not be ready until 2 or 3pm. So, give your child lunch at their regular time, put them down for a nap if they still have one, and let them have a small amount of Christmas dinner or another snack at 2 or 3pm. Their dinner will be around 5.30pm (ish), so they can always have Christmas dinner reheated then.
Try to stick to regular bedtimes
Tired toddlers can cause havoc at mealtimes so thinking through your day and how and where your child will go to sleep is helpful. Don’t worry, this is not the end of your celebrations but it might mean having people over to your house or training your child to sleep on the floor or in the pushchair so you can go out.
Easy on the snacks
Toddlers need snacks but they only need 2 a day. Christmas is a time when their might be nibbles around at times they wouldn’t normally eat. Try and limit the number of times food is out and if you can’t do that, try and limit the number of days in a row this happens. If it happens a few days in a row, it is going to be a far harder pattern to break than if you have it for one day.
Lower the expectations on your toddler’s mealtime performance
Toddlers are too little to be expected to sit at the dinner table for a long time, yet at Christmas we often slip into expecting them to. Have some toys or books or colouring for them to do once they have had enough to eat. Allow them to get down and play if you can but if you can’t expect a bit of movement. Toddlers who have unrealistic expectations put on them are likely to push back and this will make far bigger a scene than explaining to friends and relatives that they need to get down!
Easy on the sweet things
The national recommendation for added sugar for the under 4s is to avoid them where possible. Realistically that’s really hard. Ways to reduce the sweet intake include: making some savoury snacks for them which you can offer, having their favourite fruit available, having sweet things after they have gone to bed, or even having fewer sweet things for everyone. This isn’t always possible but it might help everyone be more in control of what they eat.
I hope you have a lovely Christmas and this article gives you a few ideas to be able to enjoy it and help your toddler enjoy it too. If you feel like you need some more one to one support around family food, why not ask a question or a book a session with me.