How to survive the holidays with a child on the spectrum and a special diet

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Holiday season has come on strong for me this year. After three nights of festivities following Thanksgiving Day and the start of Hanukkah not long after, I'm still trying to reset as I look forward to what feels like a whole month of non-stop celebrations and cookie swaps. Yes, it's the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also a time that tends to come with a lot of sugar-induced stress.

Many of the families I work with share frustrations amidst the joy: helping their child stick to a nutrition plan with so many treats around is draining, dealing with the repercussions of veering from routine while enjoying special occasions is exhausting , finding the time to continue pursuing their nutrition goals feels impossible.

I'm here to tell you I've been there. We all have. And it's not easy.

But there are things you can do to help your child and family continue to feel good this holiday season.

These are a few tips I share with clients to keep everyone feeling a little more sane when things get hectic:

  • Remember routine whenever you can. Most everyone and especially kids on the spectrum do best when they know what's coming. Whenever you can, stick to your usual schedule. Continue your usual activities and serve foods that you usually cook. This sense of normalcy can help prevent everyone from feeling like they're spiraling out of control.

  • Focus on fun rather than food. Food is at almost celebration, but enjoying the holidays doesn't mean your little needs to load up on things that don’t make him feel good. Focus on spending time with loved ones and seek out holiday activities that are less food-focused like watching festive movies or going ice skating.

  • Try new seasonal fruits and veggies like citrus fruit, root veggies, and all those different kinds of squash. It's a good excuse to take refuge in the kitchen and your child might even discover a new favorite!

  • Let your little indulge, but set some boundaries. Portion does make a difference. A few bites of a traditional treat might affect behavior of your gluten-free little tomorrow, but the impact is dose-dependent, so encourage moderation when you can.

  • BYO. If your child is following a special nutrition plan, it's okay to bring a diet-friendly dish to wherever you're going. Make enough to share and your contribution will be welcome.

  • Don't think you have to do it all. Sometimes it's just too much. Consider if you really need to say yes to every single invitation. Your loved ones will understand, and there's always next year - or even next month! If you feel like you're missing out on something or being with someone in particular, suggest scheduling an alternative celebration.

  • Enjoy the celebrations that make the season special and remember that a few splurges along the way won't have much impact (if any!) in the long run.

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