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.
While you don't need anything special for Baby-led Weaning or toddler feeding, the right gear (and realistic expectations) make restaurant eating much easier. Check out our Amazon shop that includes a Restaurant Essentials section.
Here are some of our favorites for eating on the go:
Do your kids enjoy blueberries? There are so many amazing ways to use this summer fruit, which is crazy high in phytochemicals (but definitely can turn kid poop blue). You can definitely serve blueberries as is (modified for age), but we like to change it up and use blueberries in other ways too.
Here are a few ways that our family enjoys blueberries:
We recommend squishing or halving for kids under 12 months to be extra safe (although they’re not a true choking hazard). Keep the salad for older eaters due to the honey (a no no under 1) and the whole nuts (avoid until 4).
If you are looking for more ideas like this, you can follow us on Instagram or check out our online Toddler Course.
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.
Did your child dislike touching the insides of a pumpkin when carving pumpkins this Halloween season? If so, they may struggle with squishy, wet textures – and playing with water beads can help! Water beads can be found on Amazon or many craft stores.
Safety Note: water beads, although non-toxic, are NOT meant to be consumed as they continue absorbing water as they travel through the intestines. They’re also choking hazards if eaten. This activity is only meant to be done with older toddlers or kids who don’t put toys in their mouths and under very close parental supervision.
When it comes to sensory processing, many people fall under two camps: sensory seekers and sensory avoiders. Sensory seekers like strong sensory inputs – for example, they’ll seek out spicy, sour or heavily flavored foods. Most sensory seekers love water beads, too. Playing with them is almost mesmerizing and can emulate an ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response)-like experience.
(If you are a sensory seeker, search #asmr, #asmrslime, #asmrsand and other ASMR hashtags on Instagram to discover an amazing new world! I apologize in advance – you will be hooked to these videos!)
On the other hand, sensory avoiding children and adults may not love the feeling of water beads on their hands, but playing with this type of medium helps them become more tolerant of wet, squishy foods like peas, berries, grapes, cherry tomatoes and wet pasta.
Start by having your child help pour the dried water “beadlet” into a bowl with amount of water recommended on the instructions. Give them the control to pour the water, then watch as these water beads soak it all up. Be certain to use a large enough container - you will be shocked as to how big these little “beadlets” can grow!
Once they are at full sized, usually in 3-4 hours, ask your child to stir the water beads with a wooden spoon, scooping them with a measuring cups into a large mouthed funnel. Maybe holding the funnel is the most they can do. Sometimes just being in the same room with an activity of this nature is more than a child can tolerate. Adding familiar toys (toy cars and trucks, toy slide, toy shovels, balls, etc.) can encourage play, but never force your child to participate.
Here are some end goals to keep in mind:
Selective eating can improve with sensory play.
What thing can you just not stand to touch? I HATE touching chalk, and Megan despises touching anything with pruny post-swim hands!
Sometimes kids really hate touching certain textures or getting their hands dirty. If this aversion interferes with normal daily life - as in, they won’t touch certain foods or won’t eat certain textures, they won’t play with specific toys or art mediums, or they struggle with touch in other aspects of daily life - some sensory play may be in order.
To continue our Foodie Judy series (check out our other sensory posts on dry textures and wet, sticky textures), I want to share with you one of my favorite activities for kids who dislike getting their hands dirty - dot paint markers! Do A Dot Art washable paint markers are an AMAZING set that are great because they’re super portable and not messy (kids don’t have to touch the mess directly), but they create spots of paint that kids eventually want to touch and finger paint with! Make sure to have a bowl of water and some towels nearby in case your child gets anxious about the mess.
The more comfortable kids get with messy hands, the more tolerant they are of different textures at mealtime! It really does help - if you feel like you need more help with sensory struggles, ask your doctor about a referral to an Occupational Therapist specializing in sensory development. It can make all the difference!
One step at a time.
Hey everyone! OT/feeding therapist Foodie Judy here with more techniques to help your child’s eating habits improve through play!
Your child’s sensory system helps determine which kinds of food he or she eats. The inputs food gives us via our sensory system can be either positive or negative, and when children struggle to process these inputs correctly, food can seem really scary or off-putting. One common issue is a strong dislike for touching wet or sticky foods like pasta with sauce, hummus, “juicy” fruit or peanut butter on toast. Does your kid dislike these foods too?
My job as a feeding therapist is to help kids struggling with sensory, developmental, oral motor, or behavioral issues around food become more competent, successful eaters. When children have sensory challenges with food, we introduce those textures in a less threatening way - through play!
In this post, we are continuing our sensory play strategies using these wet textures. In our last post about this we started with dry mixed textures, so if your tot is struggling or you want to help develop and challenge their sensory system, check out that post too!
Here are my tips for successful sensory play with a wet/sticky bin:
Keep in mind the following end goals:
How to include all kids on Halloween.
Do you have a kid with food allergies?
If you’d like to include all kids - including those with food allergies or those who have medical issues that prevent them from eating candy - in Halloween, then consider being part of the Teal Pumpkin Project! This important project encourages families to display a teal pumpkin and have non-food options available for kids who can’t have standard candies. You can even add your house to the map HERE so trick-or-treaters know where to find safe treats.
We know that it’s tricky maneuvering the food allergy world. In fact, both Judy and myself have food allergies, and I (Megan) grew up with a severe anaphylactic allergy in my immediate family. It’s hard.
If you have an allergic kiddo, try to focus on language about “keeping you safe” when discussing allergies. Phrases like, “All bodies react differently to foods. Some people can eat all foods, but some people can’t. Your body doesn’t like xyz, so in order to keep you safe we have to have other options.”
Make sure to have alternative treats for your kiddo to enjoy too. There are some great common allergen-free candies at Target, where you can also find a teal pumpkin most years (and it's reusable)!
You can also have alternative options to candy all together. Some ideas include:
If you're interested in joining the Teal Pumpkin Project, here's how to participate:
What causes a dislike of mixed textures?
Do you have a child who hates mixed texture foods like casseroles or soups? Perhaps they don’t like toppings on their sandwich or pizza...sound familiar? Judy here to discuss some occupational therapy strategies utilizing sensory play that can decrease selective eating. The dislike of mixed textures originates from the sensory system and your child’s level of tolerance for different tactile (touch) inputs.
Interestingly enough, when you let your child play with mixed textures in a safe, no-pressure way (where they don’t have to eat it), you help their comfort level when they’re presented mixed texture foods at mealtime. Tactile tolerance also helps in every day life - it will be easier to put sunscreen on their face, clip their nails, or wash their hair when they can tolerate these types of touch. This is just one type of tactile input - dry items - and we’ll show you in upcoming posts how to transition to wet or even “gooey” textures, which helps them to tolerate multiple types of foods when eaten.
Read all about sensory processing in this post.
How do we do this in a gradual way using dry textures first? See images below for examples of each step.
Words of advice:
Because kids grow up way too fast!
I don’t know what it is about fall and the holidays that makes me feel all crafty, except, I’m not the super artsy type. I can’t just come up with a craft on my own or make a homemade witch out of pipe cleaners and twine (serious props to the mamas who have this skill - please send me the materials and a tutorial.)
Thank goodness for Pinterest and the simple craft inspirations I find there. I don’t know who originally posted this, but it’s such a cute way to commemorate this holiday and have a record of your tots’ little feet. We did this a few years ago, and I can’t believe how small their feet were then!
This will be something I hope to hang up each year, even when I’m a grandma, to remind myself of a time when Halloween meant pure magic for my little kids. I know they won’t always be like this - eventually trick-or-treating will be uncool, and they may decide to not dress up for a few (or many) years. Hopefully they’ll inherit my Halloween obsession and will always think costumes are cool though!
Don’t get caught up in what you are or aren’t doing to celebrate with your kids this season. No need to pressure yourself to turn into "Perfect Mom" - it just doesn’t exist. Just carving a pumpkin together can be such an incredible memory for your whole family, and for many families it’s plenty of celebrating.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to do a craft, do something like this - it just takes some non-toxic orange and white tempera paint, a sharpie, and a small canvas. Simply paint the canvas and let it dry. Then, put some white washable paint on your little ones’ feet and make the ghosts (this is the hard part - protect your floor!) and let it dry. Finish it off by using a sharpie for their eyes and words!
Don’t forget to date it on the back! One day, you’ll smile looking at those little ghost feet!
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!