From the time stores start playing Christmas carols in October until the last New Year aspirin is swallowed, the holiday season kicks up the stress levels in everyone.
We’re figuring out what to buy, why “Christmas Shoes” is on repeat in every department store when it’s the most depressing holiday song alive and basically how to make everything as close to Martha Stewart-perfect as we can without abandoning our families during an ill-conceived cut-your-own-tree excursion.
For the picky eater, however, the holidays and their accompanying food-centric events magnify yet another source of stress: how to eat. Or, to put it more accurately, how to not eat.
While some picky eaters have learned how to deal with dinner parties, others opt to decline all dining-out invitations. The holidays can be an especially lonely time for the picky eater. On the other side of the coin, harassed hosts can become completely unhinged if they feel unduly importuned by their guests’ complex eating regimens and preferences.
As a former picky eater turned foodie, I sympathize with both sides. If you’re opening up your home and welcoming friends and family into it, your primary concern should be that your guests enjoy themselves. That’s what being a good host is all about.
That said, it’s understandable that the host, who just finished carving an edible creche out of mushrooms, complete with an enoki baby Jesus, is whittled down to her final nerve when it turns out all she can serve at her holiday gala is grape soda and cottage cheese.
With all that in mind, here are a few tips to help us get along this year:
Tips for the Picky
1. Don’t be rude about the food. No face-pulling, no shudders and, if you can help it, no gags. Just say, “No, thank you” and leave it at that.
2. Be honest. I know this is difficult, but bringing picky eating into the open can reduce your stress. You can soften the potential blow to your host by immediately proceeding to Tip No. 3.
3. Offer to bring a dish. Your harried host might welcome your offer to take some of the pressure off him or her, and you will be certain to have something to eat.
4. Eat before the event. Rather than fretting your day away over whether there will be anything to eat at an upcoming party, plan to grab a bite beforehand to sustain you. Eating post-party is also an option, but a plummeting blood-sugar level could actually add to your stress and prevent you from enjoying yourself.
Tips for the Hosts
1. Opt for potluck. No question, this is a win-win-win. First, the pressure is off you to provide all the food. Second, no worrying whether picky eaters on your guest list will have something to eat. Bonus: fewer dirty dishes!
2. Serve family style. This allows your guests to take as much or as little food as they want. It’s also less of a hassle for you to plate individual servings.
3. Silence is golden. Don’t call attention to or ask why any particular guest is not eating something: I mean, do you really want to know the answer?
4. Be understanding. It’s painful for many picky eaters to admit their dislikes. Not only are they embarrassed and ashamed by something that is not their choice, but they also don’t want to be a burden to their friends and family, which is why they often play the “too busy to see you” card.
The holidays are filled with many things that grate on our frayed nerves, but opting not to let some of those things — like a picky eater coming to dinner — get under your skin can actually help keep your stress levels in check. To announce that you don’t want picky eaters at your party is to say you don’t want friends at your party. Tolerance and understanding during the season of peace and goodwill can really go a long way for everyone.
Lucianovic, a San Francisco Bay area food writer and editor, is the author of “Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate” (Perigee Books, 2012).