12 Tips for Making Thanksgiving Successful for Your Picky Eater

  • Start serving Thanksgiving foods all month long by incorporating them into your daily meals. That way, your child will recognize the sights, smells, and maybe even tastes of these foods come Thanksgiving Day. It’s also helpful for your child to try new foods in the comfort of their own home environment, as trying a new food in a large family meal or holiday environment can be overwhelming.
  • Check out this site for additional ideas.

  • Serve family style!  Allow your child to serve themselves or ask your child what they would like you to put on their plate, which gives your child some control over their plate. Research shows that picky eaters can get overwhelmed by an overstuffed plate and will simply push the entire plate away, so be sure to not put too much of each food on their plate.  By keeping white space between foods on the plate, you give visual space to the plate and your child is much more likely to try the foods – they can always ask for more! You can also give your child a few different sizes of spoons so that they can pick which size spoon they want to use to serve each food (maybe they are okay with a lot of mashed potatoes, but only a little bit of stuffing). 
  • Start with an anchor food! This is a food your child likes and is very familiar with. There’s no need to make a special meal for your little one, but it’s important to be sure that there’s one familiar food your child can fill up on if they don’t want to eat the main dish. Bread with butter is a common “safe” food for toddlers. Anchor food puts your child at ease since they know there is something they like, which makes them all the more likely to try new bites of foods.
  • Use dips! If your child likes a dip such as ketchup, barbeque sauce, or ranch, bring some of it with you and allow your child to dip new foods into their favorite dip.
  • Treat all foods equally! In other words, don’t bribe your kids by telling them they can have a food they like if they eat a food they don’t like. It’s natural for us to say, you can’t have dessert until you eat your dinner, but this creates anxiety around eating, creates issues with food, and almost guarantees more picky eating in the future. Remember:  the important thing is to ensure your child eats! 
  • Cook together! Even if you are going out for Thanksgiving dinner, invite your child to help you make a traditional dish. This is a great tactic with picky eaters, as research shows that children are far more likely to eat foods that they helped create. Find some simple recipes (see my newsletter for cranberry sauce) and enlist your kids to help by mixing & stirring, pouring, measuring, and adding ingredients.
  • See this website for ideas.
  • Contextualize! Explain the holiday of Thanksgiving (the child-friendly version, of course), and how the foods we eat on this day are symbolic of the Fall’s bountiful harvest. Walking them through the different foods they’ll be exposed to can be a great way to prepare and excite them about the new options. Or, blow their minds by sharing that the pumpkins you carved for Halloween are “cousins” of the squash on your dinner table!
  • Introduce the concept of “being thankful! This includes being thankful for the food we have to eat. Go around the table and share what you’re thankful for, and include your little one in the fun!
  • Read books about Thanksgiving together! Using a familiar method, such as storytelling, will help seamlessly introduce the concept of Thanksgiving and the different foods we eat for the holiday. Additionally, books that depict young children eating Thanksgiving dinner will show your own little eater that there’s nothing to fear when it comes to new holiday foods! 
  • Relax & socialize! This is not the day to work on trying brand new foods. Allow your child to see, smell, and touch them, but don’t put extra pressure on them to actually eat the food. Keep in mind that a large part of Thanksgiving dinner is socializing with family. Allow your children to talk with family members, make jokes, and bond with relatives that they don’t often see. If they are feeling stressed about eating, allow them to have a positive experience by bonding with family. 
  • Shut out the extra noise! Big family holidays are precious and something to treasure, but also make way for big family opinions on your child’s plate, development, or eating.  Have faith that you know your little one best, and therefore know what’s best for them – regardless of the commentary by well-intended family members. If you have a relative who tends to meddle or give their two cents on eating, try connecting with them before the meal, and explain that you are giving your child plate-autonomy this year. If you need reinforcements, the phrase “please follow my lead,” has proved helpful with  deterring unsolicited input!
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