Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, cookies, pies… this is the dream holiday menu, people.
As an avid food lover, I always look forward to the copious number of treats waiting for me in November and December. Naturally, I thought my toddler would share my enthusiasm for holiday food, but I was wrong. Unfortunately, my 22-month-old can occasionally be a picky eater, even when the tastiest options are presented on her plate.
So, it really wasn’t a surprise this Thanksgiving when the dinner table turned into a battle of the wills: me begging her to eat something - anything - nutritious; and her demanding to get out of her seat, or eat pie (and only pie). Spoiler alert: she ultimately ate a good meal, and I’m here to share the menu items and techniques that did the trick for us.
1. Build the flavor profile
While I love gravy, my child can be a bit wary of condiments at first. I’ve found she is more open to trying new flavors if it’s done on her terms.
Instead of loading up her plate of turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, I offered plain meat with the sauces on the side as dipping options. She tried both, and the cranberry sauce was a hit! Having choices gave her a sense of control, keeping her calm when tasting the food in front of her instead of throwing a fit.
Photo Credit: @ourwishfultrio
2. Include familiar food in the recipe
Although she can be picky from time to time, sometimes my toddler surprises me. While her grandmother, Gigi, was holding her at the Thanksgiving table, she reached out for several bites of Gigi’s Waldorf salad. We thought she would recoil in horror, given the salad was coated in a balsamic vinegar-based dressing, but she loved it! Grapes are one of her favorite snacks, so we realized when she saw a few in the salad, she wanted to eat it. That luckily led her to consume some lettuce too!
My biggest takeaways from this experience: make sure the grapes in the salad are cut for safe toddler consumption (ours were!) and stop assuming she won’t like a “grown-up” flavor just because it has a strong taste, smell or texture.
Photo Credit: @andiycornejo
3. Incorporate treats
It wouldn’t be a holiday without an excessive number of sugary treats available (at my house anyway). As is true with the rest of the year, my goal is to get my little one to eat as many vegetables as possible during the holiday season. This definitely becomes more challenging for her when so many more appealing dessert options are around.
To entice a picky eater to eat green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, I offered a small bite of the pie after each bite of green beans. To encourage her to eat some sweet potatoes, I gave her a few toasted marshmallows on the side, which she gobbled up in no time. Is this “treating” technique something I want to do all the time? Absolutely not. However, this negotiation tactic was an effective way to insert some nutritional value during our holiday meal. If you think I’ll be doing this at Christmas dinner, you’re right!
What are some of your picky eater toddler’s favorite things to eat during the holidays? Let’s swap tips and recipes in the comments below.
Katie McCall is a lifestyle portrait photographer, content strategist, and producer based in San Antonio, Texas. When she isn’t behind a camera or laptop, she's exploring the world with her husband, darling one-year-old daughter and tiny pup. If you’d like, please follow their adventures on Instagram (@hersideproject)!