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The festive season is the time for school holidays, parties and loads of special food. The festive season can throw out our usual schedules and sticking to eating routines can be hard. There are plenty of treat foods around, which can be overwhelming for some parents. You might struggle with not wanting your child to fill up on treat food, but not wanting them to miss out either. So, how can we find the right balance while still making sure we enjoy the festivities?
Provide regular meals and snacks every two to three hours. Do not allow your child to eat or drink anything but water in between. This will help them to come to the table hungry and eat well at the meal or snack time. Even if your child is snacking a lot on treat foods, regular meals should not be skipped.
We all want peace of mind that our children are eating enough, but we shouldn’t encourage fussy eating behaviour. If you do have a fussy eater, make sure there is at least one food on the table your child likes to eat without offering a completely different meal to the rest of the family. For example, add plain bread to the table as a side, but don’t offer jam or peanut butter with the bread. This means there is still food on the table your child will eat, but if it’s less enticing, they might also be more likely to try the main meal you’ve prepared.
Okay, this next piece of advice is going to feel counter-intuitive, but stick with us – it’s based on good research.
How we manage treat foods throughout the year sets up how children will respond to treat food during the festive season. Children who are offered treat foods regularly as part of balanced meals and snacks are as casual about eating them as other foods, and are less likely to overeat on them. The idea of allowing treats in this way is to turn ‘treat foods’ into ‘ordinary foods’. That means – even though treat foods should not become everyday foods – our children won’t feel the need to eat until they feel sick at festive parties and other celebrations if they haven’t been restricted from them during the year.
Occasionally, try including a small amount of a treat food at main meals as dessert, so your child still fills up on core foods like vegetables, grains and protein. You can also occasionally offer treat foods in unlimited amounts at snack time, giving your child choice and control over how much they eat. At first when we allow children to eat as much as they want they are likely to overeat, but eventually the novelty wears off and they’ll eat just enough to feel satisfied. It’s scary, but it’s the parent’s job to trust their child’s appetite and growth. When we restrict a child’s eating it often drives them to overeat when given the chance.
The festive season is about family, friends, traditions and joy. Let’s not spoil it by being too strict with food and eating rules. We don’t have celebrations every day. It’s OK to break your rules on special occasions. You can go back to your usual routines when you get home.