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.
- Communicate with your partner. Make sure you’re on the same page as your partner about how you’ll handle your baby’s food and when you plan to leave. Keep communication open.
- Communicate with your family and friends. Inform your fellow Thanksgiving diners that your baby feeds themselves before you sit down for the meal. This helps prevent any surprises once food has been served. If you’d like, explain why you chose BLW (without judgement of what they may have done with their kids) and explain that many parents are now opting to go this route.
- Use us as your scapegoats. If you have taken our Infant course, explain that you got specific instruction from two feeding professionals. Tell them that it is normal for babies to gag while eating, and that gagging and choking are not the same thing.
- Keep it comfortable. Offer foods that feel most comfortable to you. Perhaps you just started BLW a few days ago. It’s OK to offer baby mashed potatoes on loaded GOOtensils.
- Bring supplies. If eating at somebody’s home, bring baby utensils and an eating mat.
- Thanksgiving dinner may not be the best place to start BLW for the first time. Practice a few meals prior to the big day.
- Decide if you want to include baby in the eating experience. While Thanksgiving is a wonderful memory to share with your baby and we’d hope you feel confident serving them holiday foods on this day, brand new eaters don’t necessarily have to share in Thanksgiving if it stresses you out too much. The family dynamic or mealtime environment may not be ideal for your family this year. This is especially applicable to families still navigating new food allergies, or if dinner is served after your child’s bedtime. No one solution is right for every family, and it’s OK if your baby skips Thanksgiving food for any reason. They can always try leftovers another time.
- Protect your host’s home. To minimize mess, make sure to put a towel or splash mat on the floor below your baby’s eating chair (or your chair if they’re on your lap). Don’t forget a bib! Avoid serving baby’s food on china or glassware.
Tips for selective eaters.
- Host a Thanksgiving dress rehearsal, especially if your child is very picky or has sensory issues. Serve a practice meal with your kids including many sights, aromas, and sounds of Thanksgiving Day. Many grocery stores or casual food restaurants have complete Thanksgiving meals you can purchase to practice. Have your child sit in a different chair, especially if you already know what kind of chair they might be sitting in on the big day.
- Communicate with your family and friends. Inform your fellow Thanksgiving diners that you have been working on picky eating strategies and will not be forcing your child to eat or bribing them with dessert. Make sure to talk about this away from the table and away from your child. Kindly ask them to let you handle mealtime dynamics instead of stepping in themselves. They simply want to help, but the strategies they have used on their kids may be contradictory toward your end goal.
- Taste test and dip! Kids love to learn to taste and dip into sauces. You may want to bring special tasting cups or separated plate to allow the child to deconstruct their meal for an increase in eating on that day. It’s OK to add ketchup or another favorite dip alongside your child’s food.
- Keep portion sizes tiny. Remember, most children can get easily overwhelmed at Thanksgiving Day meals. We recommend using a tiny serving spoon to serve themselves less overwhelming portions – they can always have more. You may want to explain to the host that your child will eat better if you or another preferred person (like an older child who is a role model) plate your child’s meal.
- Kid table…or not? Many families use the kid table for older kids (2 years+). Only kids sit at this table. This can go either way, and predicting your child’s participation can be tricky. Remember – keep the end goal in mind: to enjoy the day and be thankful for friends and family. It’s OK for your child to fill up on bread with butter and pumpkin pie filling for one meal, we promise!
- Focus on making memories. Allow your child to help in the meal preparation process or other decorating ideas for Thanksgiving. Kids can participate in many fun ways, including coloring or decorating name cards for the table or using stickers to decorate placemats. (Remember – heartfelt and kid-made can be better than “perfect.”) Making a Thankful Tree is also fun! Each guest writes what they’re thankful for on construction paper leaves, and older kids can help cut out these leaves with age-appropriate scissors. Some families do a Thankful Table Cloth and write what they’re thankful for on the cloth itself. This is a great way to make positive memories with your child and start traditions for your family. It also takes the focus away from food if mealtime causes any stress. Your kids will look forward to these activities as they grow, and they will be fun keepsakes to look back on!
- Set expectations low and stay in the moment. Your child might be overwhelmed by so many things: experiencing new smells, the timing of the meal, their chair might not be perfect, there are way too many people talking at the same time, and the visual stimulus of candles, glassware, people and food on the table. It is a lot to take in, even for us adults! Keep your expectations low and enjoy the things you can control, like staying present with your family and having food on the table. The rest will all fall into place. Don’t expect your child to be a marvelous eater or sit there for the entire meal. Keep an eye on your child at the table and have a game plan with your partner for how to handle who gets up first with the child. Have one parent tend to your child while the other parent finishes dinner and then switch so each parent can have an adequate social engagement and meal as well.
- Serve something familiar with the meal. There’s no need to make a special meal for your child barring medical or developmental issues, but make sure there’s one familiar food your kiddo can fill up on if they don’t want to eat the main dish. Bread with butter is a common “safe” food for toddlers.
- Make sure your child doesn’t get too hungry – too full – before the meal. A hangry child is not a fun child, so offer a snack a few hours beforehand – kids don’t appreciate or tolerate the “wait until the Thanksgiving meal so you’re super starving” approach. They need regular meals and snacks on the big day. Conversely, appetizers can prevent your child from wanting to come to the table if they get too full. Remember, this won’t be perfect. Do what you have to do to make the day pleasant.
- Bring Turkey Day activities. Check out Pinterest for fun crafts and Thanksgiving ideas. Involve the kids so they have enough to do while the dishes are cleaned and football is watched. Bring enough for all of the kids in attendance – this can make the day last a little longer!
- Protect your host’s home. To minimize mess, make sure to put a towel or splash mat on the floor if your child is prone to spilling or dropping food. Some toddlers do well with china and glassware, but Thanksgiving is not the time to start practicing with keepsake dishes.
- If you are at someone else’s house, have an exit strategy. Know when you anticipate leaving, and communicate throughout the day to check in. This can be especially important with babies and young toddlers who may struggle to nap in new environments. Holidays are different with little kids than they used to be, and sometimes plans change. It’s OK! Things will get a little easier as they get older, but right now you’re in a special season.
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.