Are you planning your traditional Thanksgiving menu – and worrying about meal ideas for kids and other finicky friends and family members? Fret not. You can pass more than just plain turkey and white bread this Nov. 22.
Here's how you can please picky eaters coming to your feast:
Don't volunteer what's in your dishes. In Marc Brown's charming picture "D.W. the Picky Eater, Dora Winifred, Arthur's little sister, refuses to eat spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms. But at a fancy restaurant, she orders (and loves) the Little Bo Peep Pot Pie, which, unbeknownst to her, contains those dreaded veggies. "You never know," says registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time. "You may be introducing some of your guests to something they never tried before, like a quinoa casserole." Boast about an ultra-nutritious dish? Au contraire. "Don't necessarily be confessional unless they ask you what it is," says Taub-Dix. "For some people, health is actually a turn-off."
Question guests about food issues before turkey day. Then everyone can be prepared. Years ago, when she was a vegetarian, Taub-Dix brought her own fish to her sister's house on Thanksgiving. You could encourage a guest to do the same – or you could adjust your menu. "You don't need to be a short-order cook," says Taub-Dix. "But your guests will definitely feel more welcome, knowing that you took them into consideration when you did meal planning."
Prepare plain and fancy versions of dishes. "If you're making some green beans with slivered almonds, it might be a good idea to sauté some plain green beans," says Taub-Dix. "You could literally put them side by side in the dish." She makes two versions of stuffing – one traditional and one with "the works" (chestnuts and dried fruits). "I know there's this whole group who just likes plain stuffing," says Taub-Dix, who has hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her house for the past two decades. "Make your classic dish, and then take half aside and add whatever you want."
Eat a variety of foods yourself. "Set a good example for your kids," says Taub-Dix. Veggies on half your plate? Check.
Enlist your kids as sous chefs and crew members. "Get your kids to help with meal preparation," says Taub-Dix, whose 25-, 22-, and 17-year-old children help with set-up. "It's much more likely they'll eat something they helped shop for and prepare." Remind them to wash their hands, she says. And then, don't forget to "commend them" for a job well done.
Make small changes. Does one of your guests eat a gluten-free diet? Skip the flour in the gravy this year, says Michelle Barratt, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence, and the mother of five. Or bake some of your pumpkin filling in a custard bowl, without a crust, she says.
Suggest at least a partial potluck. Say, "I want you to bring one main dish and one side dish so for sure there's something you eat," says Barratt. "A lot of families would love to bring their favorite dish." Raw vegans, for example, could toss and share their own huge salad. What if a guest thinks Thanksgiving isn't complete without a mincemeat or chocolate-pecan pie? "That's great," says Barratt. "Just bring it."
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