12/22/2012 04:05 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2013

Firing the Food Police on Christmas and Other Strategies for a Low-Stress Family Meal

There are things to worry about over the holidays; Santa's gifts arriving on time, icy roads, whether you'll lose it when your mom tells you to stop worrying because after all, you turned out OK! But stressing out over what the munchkins eat is definitely not one of them. Not this year.

This weekend, we're headed to Seattle for Christmas with my family. We're also in the midst of an international move, which means we've already got enough stress on our plates, so to speak. So, will there be candy? Yes! Will there be sugar-fueled tantrums? Probably! Will it turn out OK? Yeah. Even someone who's borderline obsessed with curbing sugar and adding wheat germ to anything that'll fit into a Kitchenaid can give it a rest for a few days.

That said: I'm no fool. There will be a strategy. Mine involves the obvious (bibs, sippy cups and wipes at the ready) plus a few more ways to make a day full of food work out (pretty) well:

  • Even if your breakfast plans include a cinnamon roll recipe pinned weeks ago, offer the kids a bit of protein first while those buns are still in the oven (the kids will never be interested afterward). Scrambled eggs, yogurt or even a slice of cheese will help.
  • For dips later in the day, use plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. No one, not one person, will notice. Bonus, any babies on board can eat the unused yogurt as a meal.
  • Encourage the kids to try new veggies courtesy of the crudite platter. Never has a radish tasted so good as when its coated in creamy onion dip (even when it's a protein-packed yogurt-based dip.)
  • Talk to, beg or bribe whoever is in charge of planning the main holiday meal so each mini person in your family will find something appealing on the table. This bacon-wrapped pork roast with mustard sauce is so juicy, even our toddler eats it with ease. And for side dishes, three universally beloved options include roasted Brussels sprouts, Parmesan scalloped potatoes, and sauteed spinach with garlic.
  • Choose your battles. For our crew, soda is still out but candy canes are in. The three bite rule will still be in effect -- you're not eligible for dessert until you try everything -- but it still won't be a big deal.
  • This is the most important one: If the kids don't want any veggies, any dip or anything else, don't, under any circumstances, stress. (Even when your family members raise an eyebrow about any of the above.) Milk will be spilled, dresses will get dirty but if we're all lucky, it'll be a sugar-fueled fest to remember. I'm not advocating sloppy eating habits forever, just a break from helicoptering in the kitchen until Dec. 26.

In my single days, I used to prepare myself for trips home with calming mantras. I will not regress into a puddle of teen angst, even when my step-dad makes one of his hilarious jokes about my hair. I will graciously accept the cactus plant my hippie brother gives me, even though it's impossible to take home on the plane. Now that I've got three kids under the age of 4, my mantra is more about avoiding puddles of other kinds. Every kind. Merry Christmas!