This post was written shortly after Thanksgiving 2017. While we didn’t have phones at the table to show a close up of everything that occurred while eating, I wrote this personal reflection shortly after the holiday in hopes that it could later be used to inspire and encourage other families as we approach another holiday season.
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We are about to speed into Christmas. Literally. We hosted everyone at our home for Thanksgiving less than 24 hours ago and I have already been in the attic most of the morning to pull out all of our Christmas decor. I love this time of year. But yesterday, as we gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, I had a few realizations I felt were too important not to jot down.
Because although this all may not come full circle again until next Thanksgiving (or another large family dinner), there is something that happens during the holidays that doesn't in the day in, day out of feeding our kids:
a realization of progress
I work with many parents who ask me, "How soon until my kid will: ‘…eat everything I offer?’ ‘...like vegetables?’ or ‘…not be so picky?’
Although I wish I had a quick answer to this, I am reminded why I approach my clients and my own family the way I do.
The consistency of what, when, and where we create a pleasant, no-pressure feeding environment pays off. Even when we don't always see it in the day to day, week to week, or even month to month. When we are faced with a more formal family gathering where the menu holds both meaning and a lot more effort than usual put into the meal, we begin to see that from year to year and through all the eating opportunities in between, our kids are learning to be what Ellyn Satter calls, “competent eaters.”
For all of you parents who think you aren't making progress, or at least are not yet seeing it, take a seat and read a few reflections from my own weary dietitian-mom heart.
Reflections from Thanksgiving 2017
As I fed my almost two year old tonight, she ate a dinner roll with butter. LOTS of butter. A cup of milk. A handful of peas. A lick of turkey. A poke at cranberry sauce. No interaction with the butternut squash or Brussels sprouts. Then later, a larger than average portion of whipped cream for dessert (she turned down pie! I know, right?!).
I could see how any parent may feel defeated in this. She ate seemingly "nothing." Or at least not what I would have chosen for her to eat should I have been able to spoon feed her. But you know what did happen?
Her almost four year old sister, however, ate like a champ. That same child who has struggled with apprehensive eating for years. The same little girl who two years ago sat in her booster seat and ate a roll with butter. LOTS of butter. A cup of milk. A handful of peas. A lick of turkey. A poke at cranberry sauce. No interaction with the butternut squash or Brussles sprouts. Then later, a larger than average portion of whipped cream for dessert (no pie either…I know!)
But this year?
My older daughter was stoked we were having "turkey bones!" and ate two of them (thankfully I bought extras than just the two on the bird knowing she is on a more recent all-things-protein-on-a-bone kick). She has learned to like mashed potatoes. She accepts cooked peas now in addition to frozen. She was curious to try the cranberry "jam" and liked how sweet it was. She enjoyed one roll (still with a large amount of butter), but it wasn't her end all be all "love it" food that she ate nothing more than. It was just a part of the holiday dinner.
And you know what?
It felt uh-maz-ing.
There were no second meals made. No fits in front of our extended family and friends. No fusses about if/whether and how much she would eat from the meal I had worked so hard to prepare. No fights to eat more, stay seated, or show good manners around the meal and others at the table.
It was just a great time to see that all the hard work put into raising a competent eater had shown up in one of those moments when I really don’t want to have “that kid” who doesn’t eat anything at the holiday dinner.
And I didn’t.
My pride as a dietitian mom has been put through the ringer many, many times, so this desire wasn’t about wanting to look good in front of our company. While no parent wants “that kid” at a big gathering, my desire for an enjoyable was more than that.
My mom heart longed to know the one thing I have wondered often, even as a dietitian:
“Are we even making any progress?”
It was then, amidst the wondering and worrying about all the what ifs for how the meal could go, I was reminded:
Indeed, we are.
I don’t know if next year I will remember these small wins. I don’t know if we will see them repeated again in our oldest, if our youngest will be on board with any new foods, or if the whole meal will be a hot mess despite my best efforts yet again.
What I do know though is that going into the holidays with apprehensive eaters can be stressful, particularly for parents. Our kids often absorb a lot of this stress over what will be offered and if they will even like or want to eat any of it, while most parents carry this weight with them as well. We all want to enjoy the food, the family, the friends, and the festivities of the holiday season. That’s why no matter where you are at in what feels like “attempting” to raise a healthy eater, I hope this personal reflection will help to encourage you to keep on course. You might not see “success” on your average Tuesday, seemingly at all over the past month, or in the moments when you cave and make mac and cheese once again.
My hope, however, is that in that moment you sit your sweet littles down at the beautifully set holiday table this year, you can choose to enjoy the meal and embrace any bit of progress alongside them.
There will be a day our children help us make the very holiday dishes they today turn down. Hang in there.
As we get ready for the holiday season upon us, I want to share with you some of my best advice on how to handle the stresses of feeding kids over the holidays. That’s why next week, I am sharing seven common feeding scenarios (AKA struggles!) from the holiday season plus advice for how to handle them so you can set your family up for success with all the family meals and holiday gatherings to come! It will give you all the tips and tools you need to make your family’s holiday meal one to remember…and not because it was such a hot mess it is scared into your memory kind of thing.