The holidays are filled with happy moments, but as a parent to a little one, you may sometimes worry about whether your toddler can handle it all—or whether you might have to handle a meltdown in front of extended family. And while that might happen (okay, it probably will happen at some point but remember that we’ve all been there!), there are a few things you can do with meals and routines to have calmer and happier holidays. Ashley of Veggies and Virtue is back to help.
5 simple ways to help your toddler have a happier holiday!
“It is important that we show that it is okay to not be 100% in control of what we eat, not only for how it makes our host families feel, but also because it shows our children that we can enjoy all foods no matter who’s serving them,” Ashley says. And remember: “Just as we as adults have more loosened up eating habits around the holidays, our kids will be too. But the way we model healthy eating to them model to them can help teach them the behaviors to self-regulate on their own as they grow.” It can also be helpful to remember that while you may look forward to special holiday food, your child may not remember it from last year. It’s 100% okay if they just eat the bread or crackers!
Keep Some Routines
“Grazing will happen and routines will get thrown off with the holidays, but if you expect it, you can stay calm and our children to eat better amidst it all,” Ashley says. “Try to keep a semi-normal meal and snack structure so your child has the comfort of consistency and will be less likely to have a hunger-induced meltdown,” she says. Bonus: This also provides your child with a little security when meals are offered in an environment that may be unfamiliar to them.
Adjust What’s Served When
“If your family does a late lunch/early dinner for the holiday meal, consider a more hearty bedtime snack,” Ashley says. And: “When snacks are out all day and grazing is inevitable, try to maintain your schedule while also assuming that your child eat less than normal at actual meal and snack times.” This is a simple way to make sure that your child has enough opportunities to fuel up and provides consistency with healthy eating habits even when there are more snacks and treats around. You can also add in a simple bedtime snack like a banana or yogurt or toast if dinner is earlier than usual.
Protect the Nap
Obviously this may differ depending on the child, but if there’s one thing we try to protect, it’s nap time. Whether it happens in the car, is shorter than usual, or looks more like quiet time with books, building a little downtime into the holiday schedule can make the evening go a lot smoother. Talk to your host if a holiday meal will occur right around nap time (those without toddlers may not realize how important naps are!), or maybe take it as an omen that you should enjoy the meal in relative peace while your little one sleeps! (And if you have a day where the nap just doesn’t happen, lower your expectations for both eating consistency and behavior a bit. Because it’s hard for little ones to do both well when they’re tired!)
Remember It’s Not Permanent
Holidays are special for many reasons—including that they’re different than the everyday! “Try to resume normal routines as soon as possible but try to avoid negative self-talk about guilt or shame over any of the indulgences you made,” Ashley says. “Instead, discuss what you savored most about that food, time, or memory that made these indulgences most worth it if/when they come up. Talk about how relaxing it was to “slow down,” and yet how excited you are to also find seasonal ways to enjoy more activity on the days you can,” she says. This can help to subtly remind kids of what’s important and to solidify those early memories for years to come.
And if things seem like they’re going off the rails, put on coats and head outside for a dose of fresh air. It’s amazing what that can do for all of our moods!