Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving for the picky eater

One of my most favorite Thanksgiving memories was from my daughter, then four-years old. We were at my sister's house with extended family and we had just begun to devour our over-filled plates of Thanksgiving staples. We mmm'd and ahhh'd over the moist turkey, the sweet and crunchy sweet potato casserole with candied pecan topping, and the only stuffing that I have ever known, a homemade family recipe passed down for a few generations.

As we were chewing and complimenting the various chefs, Amelia stopped eating. She put her hands in her lap and declared loudly, "this is yucky!".

We stopped chewing and looked her way, then giggled. Who could ever think Thanksgiving goodness is yucky? A classic picky eater, that's who.

My child is still a picky eater at age 6 1/2. In fact, she has already reminded me that she does not like Thanksgiving food which means we already have a negative association to address. I think we need to launch our mission to change her mind. She will not be having her own personal plate of chicken nuggets! She will eat from the bountiful holiday table with the rest of us. I hold out hope that she will change her mind on a few tastes independently, but I am also willing to allow minor adjustments as well.

My rule is usually that she eats what we eat (unless we are having something extraordinarily grown-up or spicy), but I will modify a recipe in the process of cooking if it takes little effort. Thanksgiving foods can be easily modified, or have a little scoop of this and that set aside, so I think we can find a win this year.

Getting a picky eater through a Thanksgiving meal

  •  Limit snacks - A child who has been allowed to graze on snacks all day "because it is a holiday" is a child who will not be hungry come mealtime. If you know when the meal will be served, cut off any snacks at least 1 1/2 hours prior. Your picky eater will be more likely to consume what is on their plate if his/her belly is hungry.
  • Invite them to the kitchen - Children are often more interested in food if they are allowed to see how it is prepared, and especially if they are allowed to assist. Let your picky eater complete a few tasks in the kitchen that day and help him/her to become excited about tasting the hard work later.
  • Talk up dessert - Okay, perhaps this one won't make it to the expert parenting books any time soon, but I know it works for my child. She has a sweet tooth just like her mama. We have to ensure that the dessert on hand includes something other than pumpkin pie or pecan pie. We need to entice her child taste buds with some chocolate cake or ice cream sundaes, get her excited for dessert, and gently remind her that only those who eat their meal may have the sweet stuff. Bribery? Sure, I have no problem with it.
  • Play a tasting game - If your child is a word whiz or a bit older like mine, it can be fun for them to play food critic. It also invites table interaction during the holiday meal. Ask your picky eater to taste one food at a time, and come up with the most descriptive words to tell you all about it. If the descriptive word isn't "horrible" or "yucky", you may be on the right path. Ask him/her to taste again and give a second word. This can be pretty funny if you have a word-savvy child at the table like I do.
  • Alter a couple recipes - This doesn't mean we should all miss out on the homemade stuffing or candied pecan topping on the sweet potatoes. But when it is an easy task, try to set aside a small portion of various foods and make them more kid-friendly. Make a tiny dish of sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping in lieu of pecans (and do not let the marshmallows turn brown!). Set aside a few green beans, plain, or strain out any of the tasty meats or onions if they were cooked within. Whip the mashed potatoes for an extra couple minutes to reduce those pesky child-unfriendly "lumps". We should not be dictated to eat what our picky eaters want, but if it takes only an extra second, I have no problem with some minor tweaks to avoid future declarations of disgust.  
  • Ketchup - Or Ranch dressing; whatever it is that your picky eater loves to dip, let 'em have it. Who cares if the turkey takes a dive in ketchup instead of gravy?   
Personally, I cannot wait to stuff my face silly with Mom's Thanksgiving feast. Luckily, I am not responsible for the cooking so we do not have to face any "yucky". My stomach is growling already.

Let's eat!

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