Holidays & celebrations

My Child Won’t Eat Anything We’re Serving for Thanksgiving. What Should I Do?

By Sheldon Horowitz

My son has sensory processing issues and is a very picky eater. My mother-in-law always does the cooking for Thanksgiving and is a very picky host. Any advice on how to get through a long formal dinner where there’s no food that my child will eat?

Sheldon Horowitz

Senior Director, Learning Resources & Research, National Center for Learning Disabilities

Something tells me that this is a trick question! No matter what the answer, someone is going to be upset, take offense or throw his or her hands up in frustration. But here’s one way to think about the Thanksgiving experience so that everyone walks away from the table with fond memories (and a full stomach).

The first and most important thing to remember is that despite the fabulous smells coming from the kitchen, Thanksgiving isn’t just about food. This holiday is about people who care about each other and who want to spend quality time in a fun and relaxed way.

Relatives and friends coming together, telling stories, playing games, laughing out loud…. These are the essential ingredients that make the holiday so special. Sure, the food is important, but it shouldn’t get in the way of everyone feeling included and loved.

This holiday might be a great opportunity to help your mother-in-law understand what makes her grandchild tick. Try to visit with her (or talk on the phone) a few days before Thanksgiving and explain what sensory processing issues are all about. Help her understand why your child behaves in certain ways at certain times. Talk about what the two of you can do together to help him feel accepted.

For example, you can talk through the menu with her and discuss which foods she’s preparing will be hard for your son to handle. Once you explain his issues with food, then you and she can arrange to have items on the table you know he’ll enjoy.

If for whatever reason you’re leery about talking with relatives about your child’s issues, there’s nothing wrong with having him arrive at Thanksgiving dinner with a full stomach. You can bring snacks for him too. You may also want to talk with him ahead of time about when and where to eat these snacks in ways that don’t draw negative attention to his food sensitivities.

Finally, your son may have issues with eating foods with certain tastes or textures. But there’s no reason why he can’t help with the big Thanksgiving meal. Can he help set the table, carry dishes or clean up? If there are ways for him to shine, then go for it. Your mother-in-law will be thrilled to have an extra helper, and your son will feel included. And that’s good news for everyone involved.

About the Author

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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