For many people, Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with endless amounts of food followed by full-belly naps on the couch. Parents of picky eaters, though, often have to deal with cranky kids on this holiday.
While your picky eater may willingly pick up a spoon full of mashed potatoes, that certainly isn’t filling (nor nutritious) enough to get them through the holiday. Many of the side dishes, including numerous veggie options, are often too unusual for picky eaters to bother trying. You know how delicious Grandma’s sweet potato casserole is, but your picky eater probably isn’t adventurous enough to test it out, which is troublesome (and embarrassing, if you’re the cook’s guest).
So, what can you do to ensure your picky eater actually eats something this Thanksgiving?
1. Test out Thanksgiving treats early
Slowly start introducing your picky eater to some of the more “unusual” dishes from your Thanksgiving meal. Pick up your favorite recipes for green bean casserole and sweet potato pie, and even pop open a can of cranberry sauce. By slowly giving your picky eater these dishes, they will be less stressed about the Thanksgiving meal because they tried everything beforehand (and they actually know what they don’t like). Plus, this gives you the chance to test your recipes before the big day.
2. Spoil the supper (just a bit)
It’s no secret that kids love dairy and sweets. While these may make a meal more delicious, they also reduce its nutritional value. Still, studies have shown that kids are more likely to try foods that are slightly less healthy and learn to enjoy the healthy version later on. So if your picky eater is avoiding broccoli, add some cheese on top. That way, when they reach the meal you can coax them toward the veggie plate a little easier.
3. Get them cookin'
Involve your kids in kitchen prep this Thanksgiving, and they’ll be more likely to eat the meal themselves. Studies show that children involved in the meal making process are more likely to reach for the food during dinner. Their job doesn’t need to be complicated either—it can be as simple as mixing the stuffing or adding cheese to a casserole. Not only is this greater for encouraging picky eaters, but it also takes the load off your back for cooking the meal!
4. Prepare a picky eater's preference
Does your child love chicken tenders, but despises turkey? Prepare a batch for the meal itself. This guarantees your child has at least one thing to eat during the meal. If you’re heading to another household, volunteer to bring plates that your child will eat.
5. Find food bridges
Once you know what types of food your child likes, find a food bridge—foods with a similar color, flavor, or texture to your picky eater’s preferences. For instance, if your toddler enjoys yams, put some pumpkin pie on her plate. Your child will be more inclined to try the food because it looks like another food she enjoys. This method isn’t foolproof, but you’d be surprised at what new foods your child will pick up.
6. Focus on giving thanks
Take away your picky eater’s stress by making the day fun and relaxing. Focus on the meal as a way to celebrate gratitude. Emphasize that you are thankful for a happy and healthy meal with your family. Your child is more inclined to enjoy the meal knowing how much work was put into the occasion. Even if they don’t eat much, know that the day isn’t about stuffing your child but about giving thanks.
No matter what you try, your picky eater may refuse food on Thanksgiving. Don’t worry too much about this. If you’re at another house’s meal, warn the cook ahead of time so they don’t think it’s their fault. If you’re at home, use the tools at your disposal to prepare a modified meal. Either way, make sure your meal focuses on the theme of the day -- gratitude!