Thanksgiving is a great time for your child to explore new foods— but what if your child is a picky eater? We hope these tips get you excited about the upcoming meal and help you feel prepared for the big day!
1. Engage in sensory play with the non preferred foods. Even if your child is adamant about not eating a particular food/foods, have fun playing with those foods! Start by placing a small amount on his/her plate (if tolerated). Encourage touching and manipulating the foods. Examples include:
- making smiley faces with mashed potatoes and/or gravy
- stacking slivers of turkey to make a small “log cabin house”
- form a “mashed potato and gravy volcano”
- make a "mashed potato snowman", winter is coming soon!
If your child cannot tolerate touching the foods, allow him or her to use a spoon/fork. Be sure to praise your kiddo for playing with this less-than-desired food.
2. Provide your child with a “learning plate”. This plate allows your child to move non-preferred foods off his or her plate after engaging in sensory play with the foods all the while learning about the new foods by having them in their sight (yes, keep this plate on the table). This allows your child some control over what he or she has on their own plate.
3. Be sure to keep an eye out for these tell tale signs your child may be overwhelmed with a particular food and my need your help:
- finger splaying (spreading out fingers, typically done so that only 1 finger will touch a food)
- turning head/body away from the food when looked at or smelt
- facial grimaces
- small gagging sound when smelt, seen, touched or brought to mouth (not to be confused with choking).
4. When in doubt, do not force your child to play with or eat a particular non-preferred Thanksgiving food. If your child becomes too overwhelmed, simply congratulate them for trying their best and allow him or her to move it off the plate.
5. Have a FUN experience! Feeding can be a stressful time for picky eaters. Model enjoyment at the dinner table and show your child that meal time can be enjoyable. At the end of the day, it is 100% ok for your child to end up eating a “less than traditional” meal this Thanksgiving. Our hope is that he or she at least enjoyed playing, and of course exploring new foods!
Article written by Adam Amspacher, M.S., OTR/L,
Occupational therapist formally trained in SOS feeding therapy approach