10 lifelong food lessons kids can learn at Thanksgiving dinner

photo: TheCulinaryGeek via Flickr

When did your Thanksgiving traditions begin to take shape?  Most of us absorbed family traditions as children: what foods go with the turkey, what type of stuffing, seating arrangements at the table, the guest list, conversation behavior, beverages, the desserts, even serving time for dinner.  For better or worse, we tend to do things the way our families taught us.  Todays parents are training the Thanksgiving hosts and guests of the future.

Food surveys and research over the past several years shows some common links between food choices, obesity and health.  Family meals, smaller portions and more mindful eating are all key pieces of the healthy eating puzzle, and are all worth encouraging.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts on food and eating lessons parents can model at Thanksgiving dinner.

  1. Keep your child’s portions under control.  Don’t heap giant mounds of food on a child’s plate, and don’t allow anyone else to do that either.  As the parent, you are in charge of this.  Model the behavior with your own portions.
  2. Don’t allow a child to load up his or her own plate with over-sized portions.
  3. Don’t force kids to finish every scrap of food on their plates.  Hopefully you prevented the child from taking a super-sized portion (see #2), and we don’t need to get into that rule about eating everything you put on your own plate.  Again, parents are in charge of modeling this for their kids.
  4. Keep strict limits on sugary beverages of all kinds, including juice, cider and soft drinks.
  5. No toxic food attitudes at the table.  No discussion of calories, fat, “fattening” foods, how much someone weighs, whether anyone is on a diet, how much weight someone is going to theoretically gain from Thanksgiving dinner or any other cranky diet talk.
  6. Find a way to include physical activity in the day: a group walk, participation in a Turkey Trot fun run, touch football, skiing, etc.
  7. When serving food, use “Yes please”, “Thank you” and “No Thanks”.  The latter is especially important as a way to set boundaries on how much food you’re served.  We have an unfortunate desire to eat what we see, so if it’s not on your plate, you won’t see it or eat it.
  8. Make sure there are green vegetable side dishes.  Kids should at least try a bite.  If they make a face or complain, ignore them.  You can say something noncommittal like “I’m glad you tried it.”
  9. No negative comments about the actual food.  Even if you or your child doesn’t like a particular food, or you think it wasn’t prepared correctly.  See #7: “No thanks.”
  10. No TV during dinner.  For an example of how that works out, see The Blind Side Thanksgiving scene.  The family is prepared to lounge in front of TV while mindlessly eating Thanksgiving dinner, but the guest sees the error of that.

These guidelines apply whether you’re the host or a guest at someone else’s home, or eating Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant.  Actually, they apply to all family meals, and they’re just as valid for adults as kids.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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