**The following advice is from a licensed Occupational Therapist and is only for children that are medically stable and have a diet that is meeting their basic nutrition needs.**
Mealtime can be stressful for parents of picky eaters, especially when that meal is a big event like Thanksgiving. The most important thing to remember is that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to focus on family, socializing, and having fun. If parents are stressed about what their child will and will and will not eat, it can make mealtime a negative experience for everyone.
The following is advice for making the Thanksgiving mealtime a positive experience, while also encouraging picky eaters to explore new foods.
Parents must manage their expectations for what their picky eaters will eat.
Remember that no person will eat anything at any time. We all have preferences, cravings, and get sick of certain foods or textures. If you think that cold, wet, steamed spinach is unappetizing your child probably will too!
You and your child have different responsibilities during mealtime-
The parent’s job is to provide healthy food options (buy it, prepare it, and put it on the child’s plate). The child’s job is to decide what they are willing to try.
Focus on what is FUNCTIONAL and MEANINGFUL-
Your child does not need to eat foods that your family does not typically eat. If a food is important to your family, that food should be more of a priority for encouraging your picky eater to eat. Expecting your child to eat stuffing is not appropriate if your family eats it once a year.
EXPOSURE can be the goal of the meal-
No human is comfortable eating something they have never seen before, and every person should want check in with others to make sure something is safe to eat.
Allowing your child to see you eating and enjoying new and different foods is an important first step.
To provide some exposure you could also make them new dishes several times before Thanksgiving to increase their comfort and willingness to try them.
EXPLORING food can be the goal of the meal-
Exploring food in different ways WITHOUT THE EXPECTATION TO EAT IT can be a great way to work up to empowering the child to be ready to try it.
Encourage your child to do the following without forcing them to jump to a level they are uncomfortable with:
1. tolerate being near the new food
2. tolerate having the new food on their plate
3. smell the new food
4. touch the new food
5. taste the new food
6. then eat the food
Set your child up for SUCCESS-
Always provide at least one preferred food during mealtime. This should be a food they will consistently eat, but not something that is overly exciting to eat. Providing this food will make the child more comfortable, encourage them to be more open to trying foods since they know they have a back-up food, and will make sure they wont leave the meal hungry.
TRUST your child-
Let your child intuitively figure out what they want to eat and listen to their own body to decide if they are hungry, full, craving something in particular, or need a break from something.
Children have preferences for tastes and textures like adults do.
Focus on the POSITIVES-
Focus on your child’s strengths and the things they are doing or trying.
Eating should always be a positive experience.
Focus on enjoying family time and making memories.
We want kids to look forward to holidays, traditions, and time with their family.
This information was provided by Kelly Culhane, OTR/L, BCP, CPAM.
Kelly is an occupational therapist that is board certified in pediatrics. She has worked with families for nearly 7 years as a feeding therapist for children with a wide range of diagnoses.