Tips: Help Children With Special Needs Enjoy Holiday Meals

Plan ahead, bring comfort items and communicate with family members about your little one's needs to ensure celebrations are the joyful events they are intended to be.

So, here we are at the doorstep of the holidays. Families will gather, presents will be exchanged and, oh yeah, there's food to worry about.

Every year, we plan ahead by counting down days on a picture calendar, discussing what is coming up and preparing or purchasing special food items our special dieter can enjoy. Since he also has special needs and is easily overstimulated and gets upset at sudden changes, we take even more steps to prepare him for holiday gatherings.

I found these tips about bringing a special needs child to the holiday table from the Friendship Circle to extremely helpful and accurate. (By the way, the nonprofit that helps families of children with special needs is offering a on Christmas Day. Sounds like a great time! Here are some more ideas from the Friendship Circle on sensory activities during the winter months.)

The holidays can be overwhelming for everyone, so take a deep breath and remember why we gather in the first place: to be with our loved ones during the holidays and enjoy the season.

I like to remind my little ones of the importance of family. I tell them to give hugs, smiles and high fives. I tell them that family is important, and everyone likes to see how big they've gotten and all they've learned in the past year.

Some tips for those bringing special dieters to the holiday table:

  • Communicate with the host. Find out what food will be served and offer to bring a dessert or dish to pass and make it allergen-free. Bring some back-up items for your special dieter, just in case. Talk with the host about what your special dieter can or cannot eat. If they want to pick up a yummy dessert or some bread themselves, suggest Celiac Specialties in Rochester Hills or Novi, in Berkley, in Ferndale, or or , which have several Metro Detroit locations. 
  • Host a party. Make a simple meal with allergen-friendly food and relax (about the food, anyway!).
  • Serve special dieters first. If a holiday meal is buffet style, or hors d'oeuvres are placed out, scoop some up for the special dieter before cross-contamination can occur.
  • Again, make it about family, not about food. Explain to little ones that the holidays are about being with loved ones. Being together makes the holiday special – and there also will be food to eat.

By planning ahead, bringing comfort items and communicating with family members, everyone can enjoy holiday gatherings. Luckily, our traditions are pretty similar every year and our family is used to our pre-planning and food-bringing and the fact that we often come equipped with a small exercise trampoline!


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