The Thanksgiving Table With a Picky Eater


Melanie with her Daughter

Do you have a picky eater (or problem feeder)?

Does thinking about sitting around the Thanksgiving table with family stress you out due to your child’s food choices? Do you wish that family and friends better understood your child’s individual needs related to their struggles with food? Well, I’m right there with you!

For all the excitement and joy that comes with sharing the Thanksgiving Table with extended family, there also comes a sense of dread in my stomach for my daughter and how those around her react to her eating habits. She is a problem eater. The food items in her diet are limited (although slowly improving – and by slowly, I mean like a turtle moving through peanut butter!)

Well-meaning family will suggest that she try new foods or say things like, “Better start eating some veggies if she is going to be healthy!” (said in a joking manner, of course…but it’s not funny to us). People sometimes forget that the Thanksgiving Table is less about the food, and more about the fellowship. It is my desire for every member of our family (and yours) to enjoy the Thanksgiving Table, so here are 5 tips to pass along to extended family ahead of time:

  1. We all love to eat our favorite foods at Thanksgiving, including the problem eater. The Thanksgiving Table is not a therapeutic time to try new foods (unless the child personally initiates trying something themselves). A kind and loving gesture toward the child (and her parents) would be to have available and ready some of the child’s favorite foods (and yes, I mean whatever their preferences are, from Pop-Tarts to chicken nuggets). This small act relieves internal stress of both the child (who typically carries a lot of anxiety about eating socially) and for the mom.
  2. Keep conversation topics with the problem eater about the joys of being together and not their food choices. You don’t want the child to feel extra pressure in what may already be a stressful situation.
  3. Invite the child to sit with others to eat, but don’t insist on it. Most problem eaters have a difficult time being in social situations where food is involved. Problem eaters can have a full gamut of reactions to being around various foods (all from gagging to having an anxiety attack). If the child is willing to sit at the table with others, that is great! Again, having their preferred food available to enjoy helps with this tremendously.
  4. Take time to learn more about the struggles of both the mother and the child who is the problem eater. Mothers of problem eaters carry a lot of guilt. Some we have self-inflicted, but the worst is when it is passed along from others. I’ve heard before, “Back when I was a kid we had to eat what was put in front of us.” I want to respond, “That’s great that you could do that, but eating is not a pleasure filled event for my child on a daily basis. It is a deep psychological and physical struggle.”
  5. Be Thankful. Embrace the child (and the mother) for where they are now and who they are now (not for what you are hoping they will become). Rejoice in the time to be together. That is a true blessing!

Feel free to pass along this blog to your extended family members or friends before your Thanksgiving meals. They don’t always realize what’s going on “behind the scenes” in our homes, and taking just a few minutes to educate them may make your Thanksgiving a lot less stressful.

Do you struggle with a problem or picky eater in your home? There is help for you! Taking a caring and supportive approach to nutritional changes, we are able to guide children and parents through a program designed to help expand their food preferences. Call us at Kid’s Creek Therapy anytime for a free consultation at 770-888-5221.

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