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Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette
Picky eaters

Just try a bite, please

Dietitian offers tips on getting kids to eat foods for holidays

If memories of your niece’s Thanksgiving proclamation that she wouldn’t be eating anything but hot dogs are haunting you this time of year, just try to think back to the time when you spit out mincemeat pie on your mother’s good tablecloth.

Well, maybe you didn’t do that. But I did. And that’s why I try to keep children’s eating peculiarities in mind when it comes to upcoming holiday dinners.

Julia Just, a registered dietitian who works with children at Parkview Regional Health Center, says kids’ palates often react to strong flavors more than adults’ – we actually lose some taste sensitivity as we age, she says. So, kids like food to be, well, plainer than we do in the sauce-and-seasoning crowd.

Just, who has teenagers that will eat just about anything, says there’s a cornucopia of strategies for hosts or guardians of underage picky eaters to avoid a food fight.

Plan, plan, plan. Thanksgiving has a few signature dishes, but usually there’s a smorgasbord from which to choose. So, ask about food preferences of attending children and plan a few kid-friendly items – maybe mac and cheese, gelatin salad, raw veggies and fruits with a couple of dips, warm rolls.

Introduce new foods to children ahead of time. “If they’ve never tried a green bean and are still on french fries and not sweet potatoes, get them to try some in the weeks up to heading out,” she says. “Even with turkey – some kids might have never tried it. Some families may have never gotten beyond the realm of chicken nuggets and hamburgers.”

Involve kids in making the meal. If they’ve filled the apple-stuffed acorn squash, there’s a better chance they’ll eat it, Just says. And, never underestimate the value of smells to kids. Something that smells sweet and cinnamony in the oven may win over a kid who otherwise never would consider a food.

Tell stories about the foods being served. Whether the tale is about pilgrims and Indians or the corn pudding that your own grandma always served at Thanksgiving, handing down food lore can be an enjoyable part of the holiday, Just says. When children ask for your cranberry-orange relish recipe years from now, you’ll know why.

The “just a taste” trick. Don’t insist kids eat everything – they don’t have to eat the giblet gravy or the Brussels sprouts braised in wine to have a fulfilling Thanksgiving experience. But tell them they must eat “just a taste” from among the items served.

Use the power of hunger. Eat lightly and have them get plenty of exercise the day before and day of the big meal. It’s tempting to feed a child before a big family meal if you don’t know how they’ll react to new foods, but try not to, Just says. “The tradition of sitting down together and eating with the family is too important,” she says.