Christmas - a time of peace, joy and goodwill to all men right? Or... a time for tears at the table, mealtime melt-downs and judgmental comments about your parenting skills?
When you're parenting a picky or fussy child, Christmas dinner can be really stressful. The everyday struggles that parents of picky eaters often experience at meal times become a public event.
And if your family is anything like mine, it's all about the food. So much time, expense and thought goes into preparing the Christmas meal that before anyone has even sat down at the table, the food-cautious little people in our lives (and their parents) are already feeling the pressure.
If you are feeling a little bit anxious, ashamed or un-confident in relation to your child's eating, serving them a meal full of things they are unlikely to want in front of an audience of family and friends just ratchets up those negative emotions.
So how do you play it?
Let your child serve themselves
This works really well if they are only moderately picky, as the freedom to choose from a variety of foods on offer will lower tensions and give children a sense of being in control. Plus there are so many tasty dishes on offer at Christmas, they can end up with a varied plate of food without coming close to having a bit of everything.
Natalia Stasenko of Tribeca Nutrition, is an advocate of this approach. She uses the American term 'family style' to mean having food in bowls on the table for everyone to serve themselves from. Read Natalia's excellent article on the benefits of 'family style' meals.
Serve your child everything
This approach gets my vote if a child doesn't have major anxiety or sensory issues around food. It only works if you can be super laid back about them choosing to leave what they have been served because pressuring them to eat will make their eating worse.
Equally, if this is not a method you have tried before, the only surprises children need over the holidays are the kind that come in stockings from Santa; Christmas is not the time to unsettle them with a new way of doing things.
If you feel you can serve your child a bit of everything in a way that will not be threatening for them, it's a great way of increasing their exposure to a wide variety of food; the key to solving picky eating.
Serve your child a meal you know they will eat
When I asked my readers on my facebook page how they were feeling about Christmas dinner, one mum wrote to me saying that her little one will be having the same meal he has most days - fish fingers, potato and spaghetti hoops.
She said that she feels embarrassed by his limited palate and sometimes feels judged. What this mum knows though, is that while she wants to make some longer term changes for the better in her child's eating, Christmas day is not the time to do this.
You know best
Whether you decide to serve your picky eater a full Christmas dinner, let them serve themselves, cook them a completely different meal or do things another way entirely, my key message to you is to trust your judgement.
There are many things you can do to improve your child's relationship with food, but Christmas day is not about getting your child to eat better, it's about spending happy times with the people that matter the most in your lives.
Pressure at the table will make everyone stressed and Great Aunt Elsie pushing sprouts on your child is not about to suddenly induce him to like them. So having decided how you're going to handle Christmas dinner, here are my top three tips for optimising the Christmas cheer:
My Christmas survival tips
1.Keep the majority of the edible treats until after the main meal so that your child has a bit of an appetite at dinner time.
2.Have a pre-dinner team-talk, explaining to anyone who will be eating with you, that you have decided how you are going to handle things at the table, and you'd like everyone to respect that.
Tell your friends and family that it might feel like the right thing for them to give you advice on your child's eating or try to encourage them to eat during the meal, but actually it isn't what you need from them.
3.Rise above any felt or implied criticism. Picky eating is a hugely common problem and anyone that wants to judge you or child has limited knowledge of the subject.
Sometimes others offer unsolicited opinions or advice because they want to be helpful. Sometimes they want to let you know that they think you could be doing things 'better'.
Whatever is behind any judgmental comments, calmly respond that creating a relaxed atmosphere at the table is your priority and is what your child needs right now.
Have a really happy Christmas - wishing you joyful family time and stress-free meals!