Most of my childhood Christmas memories involve food. Eating candy cane cookies while my mum read the Christmas story by candlelight, carol services followed by warm mince pies and mulled wine, roasting chestnuts on the stove top, a chocolate orange in the stocking, a special Christmas breakfast, mince pies on the coffee table while we opened presents and Christmas dinner of course! I’m sure your memories are similarly food focused!
Which means that the traditional outworking of Christmas doesn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with multiple food intolerances or limited diets!
So how do you create a Christmas for your children with food-related issues that doesn’t leave them feeling left out? And how do you build up their own Christmas memories which they feel positive about. Although we work hard at providing food alternatives we have also talked a lot recently about creating family traditions that do not involve food. And Christmas is a great opportunity to put this into practice. The hardest thing about doing this is that it does not mean providing your kids with food-free memories and traditions which are different to your own. It means creating your own set of family traditions, which involve all of you but no food, and that means a change for you too.
I thought I would write this post to share some of the food-free Christmas traditions we are building as a family. We have naturally mourned the lack of food choices in our house but are now starting to realize that the lack of food options can actually be turned into a positive as you start to do more creative things together as a family. And it arguably leads to healthier choices too! Our family traditions may not suit your family but I hope that through sharing them they may help you to come up with some of your own.
When I think of Christmas I instantly think of sitting around with family enjoying mince pies and nice food. If I allow my girls to develop that association it will be a memory of sitting with family whilst everyone else ate mince pies and nice food, which doesn’t sound like a positive memory for them to have. For that reason we are just starting to find activities that we can enjoy year after year to build extra special Christmas memories that do not feature food. Walks in the dark to admire Christmas lights, candle-lit carol services (which aren’t followed by mince pies), winter wellie walks, illuminations, meeting Santa and city centre icerinks are just a few that we hope to do.
Advent is a big thing in our house. Partly because we love everything about Christmas and advent creates such a wonderful anticipation of the day but also because we are Christians and it is the time that we think about the birth of Jesus and about how much God loves us. Our favorite advent tradition is to do “candles” after dinner. Every day we cosy up in the living room with the Christmas tree lit and the Christmas music on and do Christmas-y things – read a Christmas board book, play with the nativity set, or dance around like loons to Christmas songs we’ve found on Youtube! It feels really magical.
Advent calenders can be a big issue. We’ve found a chocolate one that our girls both tolerate but every year we also enjoy a non-food calender. I’ve seen many ideas for non-food calenders such as wall hangings with little pockets or little bags hanging on a string, which you can then fill with whatever you like. We are also enjoying a great little book called “Love Life Live Advent” with daily activities such as giving something to a charity shop or making a Christmas decoration.
We find that craft is a great replacement for food when it comes to creating memories! Five minutes on Pinterest will have you overflowing with craft ideas which you can then pull out as needed. So far this year we’ve had a wonderful time making salt dough decorations, paper plate Christmas wreaths and reindeer present labels. These crafts are nothing special but they are another way of marking out this season as being different and special without food being the focus. Last year we also had a Christmas craft morning rather than a Christmas party and invited little friends round to make decorations and Christmas cards. Our house was surprisingly unscathed by the event so I’m hoping to repeat it this year.
You may be able to create identical alternatives to mince pies and Christmas cake and boxed chocolates and all the other Christmas goodies that come out. Or, you may be in a similar position to us in which creating even remotely similar alternatives isn’t really possible. We have tackled this by creating a box of safe treats in a specially decorated biscuit tin that they can choose something from and we get it out when needed. At the moment it contains chocolate coated rice cakes and chocolate coated banana chips. Neither are at all Christmas-y but our girls like them and they feel equivalent to other treats in the room, especially as they came out of a special tin.
This is some ways is the most challenging as it oozes with tradition. But if you’re brave enough to step away from said ‘tradition’ then it poses very few problems at all. Last year our youngest sat and contentedly ate through a mountain of turkey and was so happy with the unlimited supply of meat that being unable to eat anything else on the table was not an issue. And as our girls get older we may discard the traditional Christmas dinner altogether. I remember one year my mum decided to not cook the traditional turkey dinner as none of us really liked turkey. Instead she precooked our favourite meals and served them for Christmas dinner so my sister had lasagna, my brother had chilli and I had tortellini. And we were a lot happier than we’d have been had she cooked a turkey!
And there you have it, a few of our food-free Christmas traditions and activities. None of them are out of the ordinary but they will all hopefully lead to food being less of a focus as we celebrate Christmas as a family. If you have any food-free Christmas ideas then I would love to hear them so make sure you comment below.