Counting (and Eating!) Your Blessings: How You Can Enjoy the Bounty of Fall Foods With Your Toddler

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Santa Barbara, CA (November 2009)—During the month of November, many families are eagerly awaiting what is perhaps the most anticipated meal of the year. If you’re the parent of a toddler, your thoughts of Thanksgiving dinner might be very similar to how the Pilgrims and Indians felt as they shared theirfavorite foods with each other. Not only was the first Thanksgiving a lesson in friendship, it was a lesson in food prearation and new tastes. As these worlds merged together ’round the table, there were probably a few picky little Pilgrim or Indian dinner guests who had to taste something new that day. It was a learning opportunity on both sides, as will be serving up new foods to your little Pilgrim this Thanksgiving.

As a parent, of course you know there are so many things to be thankful for at Thanksgiving. One thing that parents—of picky eaters especially—should count as a blessing is the opportunity that this meal presents to festively share new foods with children. While Thanksgiving dinner is great for helping your child experience the foods of fall, remember that these foods are meant to be experienced throughout the season and be thankful for that.

“As a nutritionist, I am thankful for the bounty of healthy foods the fall season brings and for the opportunity to share how they can be prepared and enjoyed with my family and others,” says Christina Schmidt, M.S., Nutritionist and Author of The Toddler Bistro: Child-Approved Recipes and Expert Nutrition Advice for the Toddler Years. “The traditional Thanksgiving meal is really quite nutritious, and the occasion offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce new foods to your toddler.”

The opportunities to share nutritional lessons with your child really are bountiful this time of year. Let her know that she can be a great helper in the food preparation process. She can help you pick a healthy recipe, shop for ingredients, and even play a role in cooking that winning dish. Helping your little chef identify with her own special role in the holiday meal preparation can really go a long way in your quest to make her a healthy eater. This will increase her awareness and comfort level with new foods, and as an added bonus, she’ll be more inclined to eat some of the meal that she helped prepare too!

As you’re reveling in the festivities of fall, remember that this season is loaded with so many fantastic, tasty, and healthy foods that you can be introducing to your toddler. “These foods store a rich supply of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that fortify and support our body health,” adds Schmidt. “They will also help expand her list of favorite dishes—and hopefully move some of those food items that tend to be on heavy rotation (can you say chicken nuggets?) further down that list.”

Nutritional super food of fall:sweet potatoes

Turnips

Carrots

Celery

Winter squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti)

Pumpkin

Broccoli

Beets

Parsnips

Cauliflower

Green beans, Snow peas

Kale, Swiss chard, Spinach, Collards

Avocados

Pears

Pomegranates

Persimmons

Apples

Cranberries

Turkey

Beans

Whole grain breads, rolls, wild rice

Looking for a little more help in the kitchen this Thanksgiving? Here’s a Turkey Day dining guide and a list of kitchen tasks to tempt your toddler into adopting some new food favorites. Many of these can be prepared ahead of time to avoid tiring out your little helper.

Appetizers (Serve these with some fun fall cocktail napkins. Even the table decorations encourage trying different foods.)

Sliced hard boiled eggs: Your toddler can help arrange them on the tray.

Raw veggie bites with hummus and yogurt dips: Let your toddler create a dip with yogurt, a little honey, or vanilla spice.

Cheese, olives, and whole grain cracker tray: Include some black olives for some holiday finger food fun. (Not too many! These are high in sodium.)

Soup: Butternut, sweet potato, or pumpkin soups are winners! Use milk instead of cream and low sodium broth. Have your toddler help spoon soup into mugs and his own special cup. (Make sure it has cooled first.)

Sides

Cranberry relish: This dish is loaded with antioxidant power and was designed with toddlers in mind. They can measure cranberries and help grind and taste. Grind or mix in a food processor 2 cups fresh cranberries with 2 small oranges (rind and all) and ½ cup sugar or to taste.

Jell-O salad: Abandon the sugary-sweet ambrosia salad for a Jell-O mold with fresh fruits or avocado whipped with light cream cheese.

Gravy: Throw in some ice cubes to separate the fat from the juice and skim the fat off the top. Older children who are cautious around hot burners can stir the gravy while it thickens.

Sautéed veggies: Try carrot “coins” with ginger and honey, snow peas, sliced turnips with maple syrup and raisins, or green beans. Your toddler can design the veggies into fun shapes, such as trees, stars, and faces on the serving plate.

Whipped sweet potatoes: Whip steamed sweet potatoes with some plain yogurt.

Potato parsnip mash: Your toddler will love the “white carrot.”

Main course

Turkey, Tofurky or your meat of choice. Your toddler can help out by telling you when the timer goes off for basting or baking.

Stuffing: Forgo the packaged breadcrumbs and have your toddler tear up small pieces of dry, whole grain bread into a big bowl for stuffing mix. This is a great activity while watching the floats and balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sneak in some extra veggies and fruit by mixing in some chopped sautéed celery, onion, parsnips, apples, raisins, kale or chard before baking or stuffing.

Dessert (These choices are low in fat and contain natural sweetness, so not much sugar is needed. They are also loaded with vitamins!)

Pumpkin Pie: Use fresh pumpkin or canned, organic pumpkin, skim evaporated milk, and brown sugar. You can make a custard-style, crust-less pie too; just bake the filling in a nonstick or oiled pie pan. Have your toddler help you scoop a little frozen vanilla yogurt, ice cream, or soy dessert for some à la mode action!

Fruit crisps: Try a pear or apple crisp with some cranberries thrown in and have your toddler help sprinkle on the crumble topping. (Watch that they don’t eat it all!)

Sliced pomegranate halves: Make sure to have plenty of napkins to pick out edible seeds from these fun, polyphenol-packed, finger-staining fruits.

“Whether or not your toddler gobbles down every bite of each lovingly composed dish this Thanksgiving,” concludes Schmidt, “by allowing her to take part in the preparation of your Thanksgiving dinner, you have nonetheless done your best as a parent by exposing her to new foods, cooking in the kitchen, and in sharing a family meal with her.” Research shows that when children help out in the kitchen, try new foods, and get to experience meals with their families, they are likely to have healthy eating habits throughout life. Now that’s something to be very thankful for.