It’s that time of year again where ‘overindulgence’ looms and hijacks our every environment, from selection boxes and chocolate-filled advent calendars to family events with disproportionate amounts of sugary treats on offer. You can’t look left or right this season without seeing some kind of delicious delight that you know your child shouldn’t be indulging in!


If you are already envisioning yourself having a very stressed, tantrum-filled season and regretting the amount of family events you’ve agreed to, then this survival guide is for you!

No one wants to feel this way over the holidays, so why not do it differently this year and set yourself up for success. The holiday season is wonderful and enchanting in so many ways but there are lots of challenges that children with autism face with regards to staying healthy, whilst still enjoying themselves and having fun.

Top Tips on surviving the Festive Season

1. Plan and Prepare – Particularly, if your child is on a gluten and dairy free protocol, then aiming to honour this over the Christmas season is vital. However, this does come with its own stress of planning foods and snacks in advance, but your efforts will be worth it.

A lot of the time the general consensus around food during the Christmas holidays is ‘yeah, why not?’ or ‘ah they can have a small bit’! This can be celebratory and seem like the best choice in the moment but when tantrums occur and behaviour becomes unruly, so does feelings of guilt and remorse…

So, I find the best way to deal with this is to..

  • Plan and prepare your kids meals in advance so that you know their next meal and therefore they’re less likely to overindulge in inappropriate snacks.
  • Bring your own healthy food (gluten and dairy free) to social events so that you know there will be at least one option for them to eat;
  • Inform your family members or relevant party guests that your child is on a specific dietary regime for the moment and will only be eating the foods you’ve prepared in advance. People are more than happy to respect this. 

2. It’s okay to say ‘no’ – there will be lots of opportunities for your child to consume sugary foods and drinks over the Christmas so you choose what foods you want them to consume or that are appropriate for them. Ensure there are relevant gluten and/or dairy free chocolate treats etc. so that if they aren’t allowed something their cousins or friends are having then you are offering them something else. This way they won’t feel left out or deprived

3. Remain routine focused – Just because it’s the Christmas season doesn’t mean routines have to go out the window. Unfortunately, this can be an inevitability as the school days are filled with different activities and then the school breaks up for a few weeks and we are expected to socialise more, see people we normally don’t see and eat our body weight in foods we don’t normally indulge in. But the need for routine and predictability can be common with autism and also self-soothing techniques that help combat anxiety, like stimming. So, there are things we can do to minimise the impact of holidays;

  • Create a visual timetable for the days off school, ticking the days off.
  • Create structure for the day, especially on Christmas day. Decide how the day is going to flow in advance, don’t just wing it! So, it could be opening presents, eating breakfast, getting dressed, going for a walk, and so on.
  • Be mindful of arriving to plans on time
  • Following through on plans/routines as much as possible.

4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – So often we forget to drink water when we’re surrounded by sugary beverages, but it’s so vital for our health and helps your body with detoxification and elimination. So aim to drink 500mls of water each day between meals. If your child struggles with drinking water look at ways to improve this. Buy a water bottle that they like to drink out of, paying particular attention to colours and textures. Carry water with you when you travel as a family and try to drink water in between snacks/meals.

5. Be patient – Christmas can be a wonderful time of year filled with excitement and traditions but it’s important to remember that things don’t always go to plan or your child may not react well to a new situation for example. So it’s important to provide them with your patience and understanding or the support that you would hope for if you were struggling in a similar situation. 

So, by planning your child’s meals in advance, offering more water, avoiding sugary snacks, remaining routine focused and being patient, you will be well equipped to survive this holiday season and remain on track to smashing your child’s health goals in 2020! Happy Christmas and enjoy the time.

If you struggle with autism / ADHD then why not have a conversation with Orla about the RIGHT nutrients for YOU or your child, so that we can begin your journey to becoming happier, healthier and more socially engaged.

Photo: Teo Zac at Unsplash