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When I was a girl, I would
start daydreaming about Thanksgiving 10 minutes after taking off my Halloween
costume. My mom’s once-a-year stuffing, made with challah crumbs, dried sage and lots of soft, sweet onions, dominated my thoughts for weeks. Other than my
birthday, Thanksgiving was my favorite day of the year.
But if you ask my son what he
thinks of turkey day, he’s more likely to express nervousness: Will there be
anything he likes? Will he be pressured into trying gross-looking food?
around here, but you may have gathered: I’m the mom to one supremely
picky eater. For a few years, Thanksgivings were downright ugly—especially
when we’d go to family gatherings on my husband’s side, where my in-laws would
note how few of the dozens of dishes he’d even try.
But eventually I realized that
Thanksgiving is legitimately scary for a picky eater. The sumptuous comfort foods
we grownups anticipate all year seem alien and overly complicated to a kid who
likes plain pasta and simply salted chicken.
Over time I came up with a set of
guidelines—I’d never call anything a rule
when it comes to picky eaters—that transformed our holiday from a source of
stress to a celebration of family and friends:
make everything a once-a-year treat.
For picky eaters, unfamiliar = eww, no! So yeah, bust out that amazing stuffing
recipe, but also serve potatoes the way your kid likes them.
2. Make sure
there’s one can’t-miss item on the table.
For my son, that’s these pumpkin rolls. I
make them only for Thanksgiving, but he knows and loves them (and helps me bake
them)—it gets him excited for the day instead of dreading it. And I can kid
myself that the pumpkin counts as a vegetable.
to your heart’s content.
A smear of Gulden’s mustard convinces my kid to
eat roasted turkey breast, since it reminds him of the deli turkey sandwiches
he eats during the year. "Use whatever works" is my motto.
4. Let your
kid assemble her own plate.
Presenting a plate laden with small portions of
a dozen unfamiliar foods can freak out an already unsettled child. Put your kid
in the driver’s seat, and try not to comment on what he’s taking (or skipping).
Come mealtime, your kid should be actually hungry, so limit snacks. Or do what I
do, and set out fruit and crudités long before the rest of the meal. I know
he’s unlikely to eat most of what’s on the Thanksgiving table, so if he nibbles
on nutrients in the hour before dinner, that’s fine with me.
If your plan is to keep things mellow—to not push your child
to try foods she might find daunting—clue in whoever’s hosting beforehand. I’m
less embarrassed by my son’s nearly empty plate when other adults know we don’t
expect anything different.
7. Pump up
the nutrition in dessert.
My picky guy has a wicked sweet tooth. I know
he’s likely to hoover everything on the dessert buffet. So I’m always sure to
include at least one item that seems decadent, but also packs plenty of
nutrition (sorta like my breakfast
cookies). This Pumpkin-Ricotta
Gingersnap Pie is a perfect option for the big holiday feast.