Children and Holiday Foods

By Pam Henderson

Did your 6-year old look at the Thanksgiving table and ask, “Why do I have to eat Brussel sprouts? The Pilgrims didn’t.” It’s a hard argument to make when your child is correct.

Indeed, according to National Geographic, the first harvest celebration meal that the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoag Indians did not include Brussel sprouts. Instead, it included foods like spinach, swan, deer, porridge and mussels with curds. Ask your little history buff he would rather that you serve those foods for your next holiday feast.

In those days of our early settlers, sugar was hard to come by, and butter and wheat weren’t yet available. That would have made for some bitter cranberries and rather boring pumpkin pie.

Amidst all of the holiday gatherings and family get-togethers that our children attend with us in these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, our children are exposed to a lot of foods that are not on the everyday menu for most of us. Foods like shrimp cocktail, oyster stuffing, egg nog, fruitcake, caviar and steak tartare may appear on some holiday tables to the joy of many and frowns of the little ones.

If you’re getting some pushback because your party menu doesn’t include chicken nuggets, French fries and grilled cheese sandwiches, share with your children that in some parts of the world, children eat ants, guinea pigs, pickled walnuts, cow udders, deep fried Emperor Moths and whale blubber. For those of us who aren’t so adventurous in our dining, these international foods make even mincemeat pie sound tasty.

It’s important to introduce your children to new foods so they get a variety of nutrients and have a chance to discover new tastes and textures. Sometimes, when children can help prepare food, they are more apt to at least try it. If you cringe at the thought of chicken gizzards and chopped liver, your child will likely follow your lead.

But, maybe your holiday menu can compromise to bring in some child-friendly foods. Think about meatballs served with fancy toothpicks so children can dip them in a sauce. In salads, rice and pasta, you can throw in things like diced turkey, asparagus or broccoli and they may go unnoticed by a child’s discriminating eye. Celery stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese is a crunchy option, as is carrots with ranch dressing. Mini tomatoes stuffed with cream cheese are tasty and so pretty on a holiday table. Crepes stuffed with Nutella or strawberries offer a fancier option. And, the wonderful fruits of winter: pineapple, oranges, pears and tangerines add some healthy sweetness to your table. During the holidays, children tend to get too little sleep and too much sugar, creating the perfect storm for meltdowns and temper tantrums. Making sure they get proper nutrition is most important – you may have to encourage them to taste butternut squash outside of the holidays when there is more calm and quiet in your household.

Whether you have an adventurous or finicky diner, there is something quite special about sitting down together for a holiday meal or in smaller groups gathered around TV trays and card tables. The conversation and laughter that fill the home are likely what your children and grandchildren will remember years from now. To get the conversation flowing, try out these questions:

Family gatherings are a great place to learn about your ancestors and family history. Grandpas and grandmas and aunts and uncles have so many wonderful stories to tell, often rich with family and cultural history, local lore and the tidbits of information that doesn’t make it into history books. They may not realize how fascinating it is to hear first-hand accounts of the Blizzard of ’67 or VJ Day. Sometimes, they just have to be prodded a little and the conversation flows. Good conversation starters are to invite the oldest couple to tell the story of their wedding day. Tell them to describe their childhood home and school. Ask for details about the day each of their children were born. I find that with my own daughters, the “old” stories from their grandparents capture their attention like nothing else. And, they’ll repeat the stories later, “Remember when grandpa told us the story of his pet rat at the Air Base in French Morocco?” That is a favorite in my family.

Who knows, once the stories start, your child might actually grab a roasted beet and eat it thinking that it’s a plum. Grab your roasted Brussel sprouts, throw in some pears, bleu cheese and walnuts, toss in a little olive oil with salt and pepper, and you might just get a new fan of my favorite vegetable.