Tube feeding during the holidays (or any occasion focused on food)

Family sitting around a table celebrating a birthday. A woman hold a cake with candles in front of a man to blow out candles.

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Tube feeding during the holidays can bring about a mixture of emotions.

The holidays often mean spending time with your family or gathering with your friends and it is often centered around food. But not everyone can eat a holiday meal.

You may not be able to eat, or maybe your food has to look different from the rest of your family and you eat all or most of your food through your feeding tube. 

Are there foods you miss tasting? Do you feel like you can’t sit at the table while the rest of your family eats? Maybe you feel isolated or sad. Maybe it doesn’t bother you and you’ve found other ways to celebrate.

Whatever you may be feeling, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and validate them because they will help guide how you handle the holidays and other gatherings centered around food.

This article is meant to help you navigate tube feeding during the holidays, and find new ways to celebrate the season that aren’t focused on food.

Things to think about before the occasion

Knowing what to expect and being prepared before the occasion will help you feel more relaxed and help avoid being in an uncomfortable situation.

Leading up to the occasion, get an idea of the plan in terms of timing for the visit, meal time, and other activities planned to see how your schedule for feeds and eating fits into the day.

You may want to know who else will be attending to decide if you feel comfortable sharing your feeding or eating with them. 

People you don’t know well, and even close family may be curious about how you eat and your feeding tube and ask questions. Before you go, think about how you want to respond (if at all) to questions about your feeding tube or what and how you eat. 

Share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. 

Want to hear first-hand experiences and suggestions for answering questions about why or what you’re eating at a gathering? Check out this advice from others on nutrition support from the Oley Foundation.

If you would prefer not to participate in the meal, maybe you can find a time to visit outside of meal time. 

If attending, let family and friends know about your tube feeding beforehand or if there are certain foods you can or can’t eat. 

If there won’t be any foods that you can eat, you can plan to bring a “safe food” yourself. Bring something that you know you tolerate well. 

Come prepared with everything you need for your tube feeding and some extra supplies in case you need it. It probably wouldn’t go over well if you had to ask someone to leave the gathering to go get something you forgot.

There may be family members who offer their help. If you feel comfortable accepting help, let them know how to best help you. Teach them the steps they’ll need to be familiar with before the day, if possible. 

Is your family asking you to travel to the gathering?

Traveling with a feeding tube can certainly be done, but it takes some more planning. I’ve written another blog to help you figure out all the things needed before you travel with a feeding tube. 

It’ll help you sort through planning, how to pack, and make it through security with your sanity.

Whatever the occasion involves, being prepared can help you to feel more comfortable and let you enjoy your time. 

Join at the table or spend time alone

If you choose to be around during the meal, you have options during this time. 

If you feel comfortable, you can join your family and friends at the table. If you can eat, you can have the foods that are safe for you to eat, or bring your own food.

You might feel comfortable eating through your tube at the table and letting people know what you are doing. 

This could even help break down the stigma around tube feeding and teach the people around the table if you’re up for this.

Blending the meal and putting it through your tube is another option that allows you to have the same meal, just through your feeding tube. 

Blenderized tube feeding may not be something you’ve heard of doing but it is something to consider. Some people feel more included in the meal because they can simply blend what everyone else is having. 

If you want to explore that option more, you should check out my blog on blenderized tube feeding to see if it’s right for you. 

You can also find other things to do at the table besides eating or tube feeding. 

Think of ways to focus on connecting with the people at the table instead of focusing on the food. You can hold a baby during the meal. You can tell stories or get everyone to go around and say what they’re thankful for. 

Perhaps during mealtime, you would rather spend some time alone in another room. Have a nap, read a book, watch some TV, and join in the activities after the meal.

Again, think about what’s going to make you feel comfortable, and chat with your family about how you want to handle this. Having a plan ahead of time can make you feel more at ease with the day.

Make new traditions, not centered around food

Occasions centered around food are probably not going to go away entirely but you can start new traditions that aren’t focused on food.

Instead of a meal together, consider planning a craft or playing a board game together. These activities are social and bring about stories and laughs, sitting around a table together as well.

Another option would be to incorporate some activity outdoors – maybe a scavenger hunt or going for a walk. Maybe there are houses with fancy light displays to go check out. 

You might want to just sit quietly together and watch a special holiday movie or read a special book or story. Perhaps you could work together to come up with a unique family holiday story of your own.

For some, including food in traditions can still bring joy. Listen to this webinar (go to the December 12, 2023 recording) to hear how Kathy, a woman on tube feeding, still finds joy in cooking for others even though she can’t eat much herself.

Think about things that bring you joy and what you could share with others. 

Build your community and share your experiences

Your comfort level with these gatherings can change over time or even day to day. Some days may be more difficult than others, and that’s normal.

Give yourself space to process your feelings and expectations around the holidays and seek out more support from family and close friends when you need it. 

Comment below with how you handle the holidays on tube feeds, then share this blog with others in your community who need to hear more about living with a feeding tube. 

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