Thanksgiving is a time to gather family and friends and share a delicious meal. You envision a table full of loved ones - or perhaps just your small family - and enjoying favorite dishes from recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Unfortunately, it's not always how Thanksgiving (or other holiday dinners) work. For parents with picky eaters, Thanksgiving may be stressful as you anticipate comments what family members will say about your kid's eating habits (and what they imply about your parenting). Perhaps you're doing Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) and you worry that loved ones will not understand how your baby eats. The sights and the aroma’s might be completely delicious to adults, but for many children, especially picky eaters or children with special needs or allergies, this meal can cause stress to the whole family.
Remember, flexibility is important with all things, especially children and holidays.
We've laid out some strategies for keeping Thanksgiving fun and low-stress with your BLW baby or selective kiddo.
Tips for self-feeding babies.
Tips for selective eaters.
If your child has known food allergies, make sure to inform your host ahead of time. Always ask for ingredients in foods you didn't make, and consider bringing allergy-friendly Thanksgiving dishes your child can enjoy so they can be part of the celebration.
Magic bars are always the favorite of the party when we make them. We gifted them to neighbors recently and I already got the "best neighbor ever" text from a few of them - one asked to put in a large order, another asked if I’m selling them. Not kidding, they’re insanely good!
Do you feel out of control around holiday desserts? One thing to try: sit down so you can really enjoy your dessert - we savor food most thoroughly when we are given the space to enjoy the eating process. Put it on a plate, maybe grab a glass of milk/milk alternative (or beverage of choice), and taste it! Eat slowly and savor each bite! After all, isn’t that why you want to eat it?
We usually use more quantities than what typical recipes call for - see images below of us putting together the layers. *Make sure the walnuts are finely crushed if serving this to kiddos under 4.*
Judy here, back with another feeding therapy tip! Many families like baking cookies from scratch around the holidays - perhaps it's something you did with your family growing up, and hopefully you have positive memories of the experience!
Did you know that baking holiday cookies is also an amazing sensory, fine/large motor, and life skill activity that I actually use with some feeding therapy clients? Check out these images of me doing this with a client!
Baking cookies from scratch can be especially helpful for kids who hate touching gooey textures or getting their hands messy.
A few tips:
Activities you can give your child to do, depending on age and comfort level:
How can you make this a success?
You can start baking with kids starting at 16 to 18 months old. They will be touching (and eventually eating) various textures, which makes great sensory play. You child will also be practicing fine and large motor development, math, communication/language, following directions/sequencing, and patience! Most of all, you are encouraging independence, a love for cooking, and making memories as a family!
Are you ready for Thanksgiving with your baby, toddler, or child?
Here are different ways you *can* serve Thanksgiving dinner to kids of various ages! These ideas are by no means prescriptive and are meant to inspire you!
A few things to note:
We hope your holiday is full of laughter, good food, and perfect imperfection.
Do you have a go-to party or holiday appetizer? I love making new party snacks!
This one is my favorite - it’s requested by my dad’s golf friends every time I see them! The smoky, salty sweet combo of the olives, goat cheese and crushed smoked almonds make it taste complex and interesting, but it’s literally just three ingredients! You’ll feel like a fancy gourmand serving these, even if you couldn't accomplish other tasks in your day you meant to get to. Kids can eat this too, just make sure to quarter the olives for kids under 4.
These ingredients were just what I found at Target but you can use whatever you can get!
If you have signed up for our online toddler course course (specifically the step on Sugar, Candy and Desserts), you know that our approach to Halloween candy may be a bit different than you would expect for people concerned with healthy eating. Sure, candy is not a "health food," and we know that excess sugar in the diet is less than ideal. As with most things parenting-related, it's all about balance and seeing the big picture. We want our kids to have some exposure to sweets and treats so that they don't binge on them, because when we restrict our children's access to sweets they tend to overeat when they're not hungry and have weight regulation issues.
Halloween is a fun holiday that should be low stress for everyone - including parents who want what's best for their kiddos.
So, what's a health conscious mama (or daddy-o) to do? Do we just let our kids have unlimited access to candy? Not quite. Follow these guidelines to make Halloween a wonderful exploration of food and sweets.
1. Offer a filling, high-protein dinner and plenty of water before trick-or-treating. Hangry kiddos will have a tough time listening to their bodies around candy. Before you head out, offer a whole grain pasta dish with diced turkey and veggies, Pumpkin Chili (vegetarian if desired), or veggie pizza.
2. Decide if your kiddo is old enough for candy. Most babies aren't ready for many types of candy because it's difficult to chew, plus babies don't quite understand what they're missing. One- and two-year-olds may be very aware that they're receiving candy and may want to try it. As the parent, it's your choice whether or not to start exploring candy with your young toddler. (In our home we allow our kids to try Halloween candy once they're one year of age, but this is a decision you'll have to make.) If your child is going Trick-or-Treating, it may be difficult for them to understand why they can't eat the candy.
3. Once you get back home, sort it! Remove any choking hazards or candies that may be difficult to chew like taffy, gum, or hard candy for kids under 4. (Use this opportunity to put together a Mom or Dad Stash of your favorites! You know, for safety and all...)
4. Allow your child to sort, explore and eat as much candy as he wants when you get home. Try not to comment on how much he is eating or pressure him to stop. Also, avoid overexcitement about candy - remember, we want our kids to see all food as food, not "something special." Let him feel his own fullness and decide when to stop. If you haven't been doing this with your kiddos, they may test you and overeat - which may lead to a stomachache. Try not to take the "see, I told you so" route with them; rather, gently discuss what happened and explain that sometimes if we eat more than our belly is hungry for, it hurts. If you start this approach young, you will likely be very surprised by how little your little actually eats!
5. You provide, child decides. Decide how often you want to serve Halloween candy again for the next few weeks. This doesn't mean that your child gets candy whenever they ask for it - see more below.
When you do serve it, let your child decide how much to eat and avoid tying it to behaviors ("You must finish your vegetables to get candy" or "No candy if you don't clean up your toys"). Rather, serve it with or after meals without making a fuss about it. You can do it once, five times, with every meal, or never again - this is up to you. If you remain neutral about it, oftentimes children lose interest.
Important caveat: this does not mean that we offer candy with every meal and snack or whenever our kiddos ask for it. Remember, you provide food of your choice at regular meals - they decide how much to eat.
6. Keep it out of sight until you decide to serve it again. A child who sees the candy in plain view will ask for it often. Put it out of reach, and if your child asks to have some when you weren't planning to serve it, explain that "We aren't having candy right now. Maybe tomorrow."
Need more help with mealtime? Check out our video-based online course, which has helped thousands of parents raise happy eaters!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!