5 Strategies For Winning the Holiday Mealtime Battle

by Dr. Rallie McCallister

Parents want their children to eat well throughout the year, but it’s especially challengingpicky eater to keep our families on the right track during the holidays. As we shift into hectic holiday schedules, it’s not always easy for parents and kids to stick to a nutritious diet, especially for those with a picky eater at home. That’s why it’s important to think about getting everyone back on the right track once the holidays are over.

Mealtimes provide a great opportunity for families to gather together and to reestablish good eating habits. For parents with picky eaters at home, getting back on the right track can be even more difficult and can make mealtime seem like an endless battle.

According to a recent survey by Abbott, more than two out of three moms have a picky eater at home. Only one in 10 of those moms is successful at getting her picky eater to eat nutritious foods every day. This struggle is emotionally stressful for moms: the majority report feeling like the “bad guy” when it comes to managing their children’s picky eating.

If you belong to the 90 percent of moms who long for a solution, there’s hope! As a family physician, I often encounter these problems in children, and I always try to offer moms a few smart strategies and tips to help get their children eating healthier.

1. Make all of your holiday meals a family affair. Many families eat the big holiday meals together, but too often children find opportunities to snack between meals. Eating as a family allows parents to model healthy eating behaviors. When your family gathers around the table to eat and reconnect, your child gets more than just good nutrition—they get important family time.

2. Invite kids to help out in the kitchen.  Moms know that children love to help. By encouraging your picky eaters to help you make meals, they’re more likely to eat and enjoy the final product. Preparing meals can be fun, and kids are more likely to eat the foods they helped prepare.

3. Teach healthy habits for life. For moms with picky eaters, patience is key, since the problem won’t be solved overnight. It’s important to give kids a little freedom of choice in their eating decisions, rather than insisting that they eat a particular food. In the meantime, to help with a child’s daily nutritional well-being and for mom’s peace of mind, try PediaSure® or PediaSure SideKicks®. PediaSure is a source of complete, balanced nutrition that’s clinically proven to help children grow*. For picky eaters who are not behind on the growth curve, PediaSure SideKicks is a source of supplemental nutrition to help balance out an uneven diet.

4. Introduce your child to other healthy eaters. Kids learn from other kids. Studies show that when children are given the opportunity to watch other kids eating vegetables that they themselves previously refused to eat, their intake of those vegetables increases significantly. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to serve nutritious foods at play dates and at family get-togethers. If one child eats his carrots and broccoli with gusto, the rest of the children are likely to follow suit.

5. Give your child a choice. It’s important to allow young children to make some decisions, including decisions about which foods to eat, as long as those foods meet your approval. The key is to create a win-win situation by offering your children a choice between two similar, wholesome foods. Whichever food they choose, they’ll be getting good nutrition.

It can be especially hard to gain ground on picky eating during the holiday season, but don’t give up! Continue to offer your children nutritious foods and encourage them to go easy on the holiday sweets and treats, and you’ll be well on your way to helping your kids develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.

For more information on how to win the battle on picky eating, visit Parents should also call the new PediaSure Feeding Expert line at 800-986-8798 to speak to a live nutrition for answers to picky eating problems.

Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, is a family physician, member of the PediaSure Mom Brigade, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. (

Updated August 2012