This strategy can work with first-time offenders, too. One of McGlothlin’s sons is a highly selective eater, and she remembers the year a Thanksgiving guest dumped a pile of green beans on the child’s plate without asking. “He’s a polite kid, so he just sat there silently crying,” she recalled. When McGlothlin explained that she never puts food on her children’s plates without asking, the guest responded, “But he needs something green!” So, she pulled out her magic phrase: “Please follow my lead on this.” The guest backed off.
If family members have a tendency to ask you questions about your children’s eating habits, Karges emphasized that it’s important to avoid using labels like “picky” to describe your child, especially if she is within earshot.
“The way your children eat does not define who they are,” she said. Instead, respond to their queries with a phrase like, “She’s doing quite well exploring food on her own terms.” You can also redirect the conversation away from eating with, “Oh, do you know what she’s really enjoying right now?” And then talk about any milestone or activity your child loves that has nothing to do with food, Karges suggested. “Many people gravitate towards food conversations because it’s easy small talk,” she said, “but you don’t have to let your child become their focus.”
If the pressure to eat comes from the person in your family who also does most of the holiday cooking, make sure you and your child acknowledge their efforts, so your child isn’t labeled “ungrateful” for not eating something on this most gratitude-focused of days. A simple “Thank you, Mom, I know how hard you worked to make today special for us” can go a long way toward respecting your family member’s need to show love through food, even if your child hasn’t touched the sweet potato casserole.
Celebrate more than food
Thanksgiving creates a weird tension in that we simultaneously love and hate how much it’s all about the food. Think how often someone at your Thanksgiving table trots out stats about how many calories the average American consumes on this day or makes jokes about needing to wear stretchier pants.
We often begin expressing our regret about eating too much even before we finish giving thanks for the food on the table. This adds to the confusing food messages bombarding our kids, who don’t know how to reconcile why everyone seems to want to personally eat less but also wants to watch them eat so much. You can help cut through the noise by keeping all of your own food commentary positive — praise the chef, share favorite Thanksgiving food memories — and then moving on to discuss other things.
“The reason we get together is to give thanks for each other,” McGlothlin said. “So, enjoy the food. But don’t make it the entire focus of the day.”