Here are four ways to make the Thanksgiving meal go smoothly, with picky eaters:
- Put yourself in your child’s shoes. That food looks weird and isn’t familiar! Many of our traditional Thanksgiving foods are only eaten once a year. That doesn’t give your kids a lot of previous exposures to be familiar with these foods. Remember what it feels like when you travel someplace new and see new-to-you foods for the very first time? It can be a little overwhelming! We often have no idea how to go about eating it or are a little hesitant to give it a try. That’s how kids feel, too—they’re not quite sure what to do with it. Rather than forcing them to try a bite or making them eat a certain amount—which can lead to them refusing it even more the next time they see it—you can relate it to something that you know they love. For example, you can tell them the turkey is similar to the chicken they really like. Either way, be encouraged that this is one additional exposure they didn’t have before.
- Have a safe food at the table. A safe food is something at the table that you know your child will eat if he’s truly hungry. Even if your child decides not to eat anything else, at least you know there is something at the table he will eat so he isn’t hungry ten minutes after the meal is over. This could be as simple as bread and butter or some fruit. It doesn’t mean catering the meal to your child or serving something different just for the picky eater. The safe food should be something that’s offered to the entire table, not just put on your child’s plate.
- Don’t worry if your kid only eats the rolls. Even if you know that your child has the rolls or fruit to fill up on, it’s hard not to be frustrated or worried that your child didn’t touch anything else on his plate. Rather than looking at each meal individually, look at what your child has been eating for the entire week. Even though that particular meal looked heavy on the carbohydrates, your child will naturally balance out what he eats at other meals and snacks during the day and week. The key (and hardest part) is to trust your child’s body to know what it needs!
- Start with small servings. It’s easy for us to fill up our plates with large servings at Thanksgiving, but kids can find large portions overwhelming. Also, kids don’t need nearly as much food as we think. A good rule of thumb for a serving size is 1 tablespoon per year of age. So, a 2-year-old would do well with 2 tablespoons of mashed potatoes to start. Of course, he may eat more or less than this, and either is okay! Even better, let your child serve himself by serving food family style. This allows your child to determine how much he needs, helps him gain independence, and he’ll feel more in control of what he chooses to eat. It’s another step in raising an adventurous eater!
Kara Hoerr is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in family and childhood nutrition. She’s originally from Iowa, but has called Madison home for the past 8 years. When she’s not helping families and individuals end mealtime battles or quit diets for good, she’s usually baking or cooking in her kitchen (she started making sourdough before it was the cool thing to do pre-Covid!), running or biking on the Madison trails, or relaxing with a good book. She never expected to start her own business, but here she is with Kara Hoerr Nutrition. She offers nutrition coaching and online courses to help moms (and dads!) out at the dinner table. To learn more or to set up a free discovery call, email Kara at [email protected], or find her on Instagram.