Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness, gratitude AND food. It’s also time where daily routines are changed, unexpected events occur, and sensory overstimulation is probable. (Think big smells, lots of noise, and busy rooms!) Taking unfamiliar food out of the picture, this day could be challenging for many of our kids. Add in the food, and our picky eaters are facing a very difficult day. We have some helpful tips to make your child’s day a little bit easier.
Talk about the day and your new schedule. Be positive and excited; talk about all the things she “can do” on Thanksgiving!
Do your best to keep as many daily routines as consistent as possible.
Talk to your well-meaning family members ahead of time and advocate for your child! Let them know that the focus of the meal should be on the family, NOT your child’s plate or her appetite. A family member’s comments, “just try some”, “you’ll hurt my feelings if you don’t eat it!”, or “no dessert until you finish your food” can increase feelings of anxiety, frustration or shame. A little education can go a long way in helping your child feel successful.
Be sure there is at least 1 of your child’s preferred foods available at the meal, and include this in the family style dining experience. Who says you can’t have a bowl of goldfish crackers next to the turkey!?
Welcome your child into the kitchen! If you’re cooking, encourage her to participate however she can! Crack the eggs, mash the potatoes, mix the salad, wash the veggies, pass you the seasonings, you name it!
Provide opportunities for movement throughout the day. Take a walk, play outside (wishful thinking in Minnesota? Probably.), checkout the local indoor playgrounds, be creative! Movement can help prevent sensory overstimulation and improve emotional regulation.
Serve food “family style” and let her plate her own food. Before the meal, encourage her to put a little bit of everything on her plate, even if she won’t eat it. Looking at food is one way to learn about it!
If your child isn’t old enough to serve herself, avoid visual overstimulation by only plating a small amount of each non-preferred food item on her plate (example: 1 single green bean).
Your child may not be ready to have a non-preferred item on her plate and that’s okay! Watching others eat and being by the food is beneficial!
Do not withhold the dessert if she isn’t able to eat other food.
When she is done eating, and wants to leave the table, let her! It’s okay to encourage her to stay longer and to contribute to the conversation, but it is important to be mindful of age appropriate attention spans and take into account the new environment and sensory input your child is experiencing. Adults often linger during family meals, it’s okay for your child to go play!
Be positive and patient. If your child is having a hard time, it’s okay to find a quiet room and regroup together before joining the party again.