Thankful for Food

During this month, we have the wonderful tradition of Thanksgiving that brings families and friends together at the dinner table.  For this month’s Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange newsletter, I’d like to explore some questions related to Thanksgiving that I’ll be discussing with kids as part of  Food and Fun lessons.  We’ll be covering:

-A bit of background about the first Thanksgiving celebration
-A guess at what was really on the table for the first Thanksgiving dinner
-Some ideas to get kids thinking about how to be more thankful
-How being thankful for our food can also tie into the local food movement

A bit of background about the first Thanksgiving celebration

The first Thanksgiving dates back to November 1621, when the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful.  In attendance were a small group of pilgrims (about 50) and about twice as many Native Americans, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. The festival lasted for three days!   The first Thanksgiving was held in the Pilgrim colony of Plymouth, which was also referred to as “New Plymouth” given that it was named after Plymouth in England.  This town was located in Massachusetts, but is a different location from where the first landing of the Mayflower occurred (on what is now called Cape Cod).

A guess at what was really on the table for the first Thanksgiving dinner

No record exists as to what was actually eaten at the first Thanksgiving, but we can guess based on climate and geography. Certainly the Pilgrims and Native Americans were not able to run out to the supermarket to pick up cooking and baking staples or pre-made dishes!  Here is a guess at the menu by “the science guy” (Source:

•       Seafood: Cod, Eel, Clams, Lobster
•       Wild Fowl: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge, Eagles
•       Meat: Venison (Deer), Seal
•       Grain: Wheat Flour, Indian Corn
•       Vegetables: Pumpkin, Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radishes, Carrots
•       Fruit: Plums, Grapes
•       Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns
•       Herbs and Seasonings: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried Currants, Parsnips

Doesn’t really sound like the turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes that fill our Thanksgiving plates today!

Some ideas to get kids thinking about how to be more thankful

Remind your kids that the following are some of the things that the pilgrims and Native Americans did NOT enjoy as part of their Thanksgiving:

•       Forks- just knives and spoons and wooden plates
•       Popcorn or corn on the cob (corn was only used in dishes)
•       Cranberries- these were cultivated at a later time
•       Sweet Desserts– no pumpkin pie!  The pilgrims did not have ovens, and their supply of sugar from the Mayflower had dwindled by the Fall of 1621.  So they made do with the sweetness of the fruits and vegetables they could find.

Ask your kids what they would not like to do without.  What about their favorite dish at Thanksgiving…how likely would that have been on the menu in 1621?  Remind them to be thankful for all that they have!

How being thankful for our food can also tie into the local food movement

It is important for kids to understand that what the pilgrims and Native Americans ate was not only based on technology (do we have an oven or not), but also on climate and geography.  Remind your kids that the growing region of the first Thanksgiving is the Northeast Region of the United States.  Have your kids brainstorm about the things that would grow there/be found there.  The list of foods eaten at the first Thanksgiving, shown above, is your answer sheet.  What kinds of foods would you really NOT expect to see at a food festival in the 1600’s in the Northeast part of the United States?


Hint:  Anything tropical!  Can you guess why?

Today, our supermarkets provide us with food from all seasons and climates around the world.  However, there is a greater cost for this food beyond the prices we pay at the checkout line.  Food can often travel thousands of miles from source to our plates, creating a great deal of pollution in the process.  Buying foods from local sources avoids this environmental cost.  Talk with your kids about the advantages to eating locally.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Eating locally:

•       Provides support for our local farmers

•       Reduces pollution from food transportation

•       Gives you fresher (and better tasting) foods!


Now have your kids think about the region that they live in. What kinds of foods are grown locally and available during the Thanksgiving season?  Have them brainstorm about a Thanksgiving menu based on local fare.  Post your menus under the comments section –It will be great to share ideas on how we can all be more thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!    Kathryn

Back copies of Healthy Kids Ideas Exchange monthly newsletters are always available online.

Don’t forget to check out the recent posts on the Green and Plenty and Wholesome Heart Blogs!

Green and Plenty:  presents the latest in nutrition, delicious and seasonal recipes, green design and wellness tips for the reader and her family.

Wholesome Heart:    includes delicious recipes, time-saving tips, and nutrition tidbits.


This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.

Speak Your Mind


Share This Post!