Ask: How to deal with a picky eater during the holidays?

Q. I am stressed out.  We have several holiday parties and my son only eats 5 foods.  How do I survive holiday parties with a picky eater? 

A. It’s that season again. Lots of holiday cheer and stress! Deciding what I bring to a holiday party that your child will eat is a common problem for families with kids that are picky eaters.

As you probably know, kids with typical developing feeding skills do not need short order cooking.  Of course for kids with allergies or diet restrictions, short order cooking is a necessity.  With that being said, you have a picky eater on your hands and you need to make sure that he will have something to eat at the holiday gathering.  Don’t stress out.  Here are a few common-sense things to do to support your child with feeding issues during this holiday season.

  • Do not allow well-meaning friend or relative be the one to “get your kid to eat” broccoli salad.  Bribing or calling out his feeding issues at this time will bring no good and may only result in vomit all over the dining room floor.  
  • Bring something that you know your child will be successful eating.  That may mean you bring your favorite “adult” food and then something that is more kid friendly.  Bring enough to share so that his “food issues” do not isolate him.
  • Ignore or smile sweetly at judgmental comments from family or friends about your son’s eating habits.  His feeding issues are best discussed with a professional specializing in feeding and swallowing disorders, not a well-meaning relative or friend.

Looking forward, you know that your child is picky, but when does picky eating become something that needs professional attention?  Below are guidelines that indicate that your child’s picky eating is not typical.  If not addressed, picky eating can become more than bothersome.  These problems can impact your child’s health and emotional well-being.  If your child has one or more of these issues, you should have your child evaluated and treated by a professional specializing in pediatric feeding and swallowing issues.   

  • Your child eats less than 20 different foods. 
  • Your child has extreme food preferences.
  • Your child eats only certain textures (e.g., crunchy dissolvable foods, which tend to be more junk food; only pureed foods or never pureed foods).
  • Your child will not eat fruits, vegetables or meats.
  • You short order cook.  You cook a special meal in addition to the meal you serve the rest of the family.  
  • Your child is starting to avoid or demonstrates anxiety about social situations that involve food (church suppers, birthday parties, sports parties, sleepovers, family gatherings, etc.).
  • Your child refuses to eat anything that is not his comfort foods. 
  • Your child demonstrates anxiety or stress about unfamiliar foods or trying new foods.
  • Your child eliminates favorite foods.
  • Your child gags or vomits with new or disliked foods.

If you are worried about your picky eater, get help now.  There is no better feeling than when your child eats healthy foods.  Change is possible, and it can lead to enjoyable family meals.

If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Joan or any of our experts by sending email to  


Joan Dietrich Comrie of Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia  (919-877-9800) has dedicated her entire career to studying, teaching and practicing in the area of dysphagia, specifically pediatric dysphagia. She received her bachelor of science degree and then her master of science degree in the area of speech pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1986. Before starting Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia in 1996, she worked at several hospitals (Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, Lexington, Ky., Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., and WakeMed, Raleigh) where she developed or reorganized the hospital's pediatric dysphagia program.

Joan has spoken on the topic of pediatric dysphagia nationally and internationally. She has published in a professional journal.  She co-taught the first dysphagia course offered at UNC and continues to guest lecture to several university graduate level speech pathology programs and to the UNC Medical Students who complete their rotation at WakeMed. She has served as chairman and member of a subcommittee of the Special Interest Division 13 of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She has received her certificate of clinical competence (CCC) through ASHA and is licensed in the state of North Carolina.