8 Ways to Survive Thanksgiving With a Picky Eater

child at Thanksgiving table

If food battles with a picky eater are common in your house, you might be eyeing Thanksgiving with more dread than excitement. So, what’s a mom to do on a food-centric holiday when her kid refuses to eat anything green, brown, warm, cold, gooey, dry, chunky, smelly, or ugly? (Let’s face it: Candied yams may be delicious, but they look nasty.) Read on for eight tips to keep the kids eating and the meal moving along so you can spend the afternoon watching kickoff instead of engaged in a vegetable standoff.  


1. Snack it up. If it’s important to have your kids sit at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, but you don’t want to spend the entire meal fighting with them over food, let them fill up on snacky appetizers beforehand (think cheese and crackers and salami and olives). Then, during the main meal, let them color or do a simple craft — something to keep them occupied and quiet but still part of the tradition of everyone gathering all together at the big table.

2. Give them what they want. Figure out the one thing on your Thanksgiving menu that makes your kid’s eyes light up, and then combine it with everything else on his plate. If he loves mashed potatoes, slop some between two slices of turkey and call it a mashie sandwich. Put butter on the stuffing, sprinkle cheese on the vegetables, smother everything in gravy and/or cranberry sauce. Find out what works, and then, go whole hog.

3. Think of the children! Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to make a kid eat something she doesn’t want to, and sometimes that’s OK. If you worry your picky eater will leave the dinner table with an empty tummy, there’s no shame in whipping up a little something you know she will eat. A kid-friendly side dish will help keep the peace, and listen, there’s no reason macaroni and cheese or PB&J can’t become part of your family’s traditional Thanksgiving fare.

4. Get crafty. If your picky eater’s main objection is that his food “looks weird,” he might be more open to it if it looked a little more inviting. Depending on how creative you are, you can go all out and, say, build a turkey with a mashed potato body and green bean feathers, or, for the less ambitious, you can go lo-fi with a few accessories, like candy eyes on a scoop of stuffing or edible glitter on a drumstick. If you have a whole group of picky eaters, put your crafty cousin on Cute Food Duty and let her go wild.

5. Get them cooking. Pride in accomplishment can go a long way toward getting kids excited for dinner, so let the picky eater help with meal prep. Mixing, mashing, and even chopping can all be delegated (with supervision!) to kids as young as 2. Not only will they look forward to enjoying the spoils of their labor when the feast is on the table, this doubles as priceless bonding time with relatives. Who knows, maybe he’ll even figure out the secret to Grandma’s cranberry sauce. 

6. Bribe away! It’s time to pull out the big guns. Promise your kid a squirt of whipped cream straight from the nozzle if she tries everything on her plate. Bribery isn’t always the best option, but it almost always works.

7. Let it go. Now is the time to embrace the adage “Pick your battles.” Is it really that important for your kid to be in the Clean Plate Club? Do you really think he’ll like it if he just tries it? Do you really want to miss out on adult conversation because you’re stuck at the kid table in hostage negotiations over a Brussels sprout? Before things get out of hand, take a deep breath, refocus, and then put your energy where it will make you most likely to remember this Thanksgiving with a smile rather than a grimace.

8. Wrap everything in bacon. Because what kid doesn’t love bacon?

What are your best tricks for getting picky eaters through Thanksgiving dinner?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Robert Ingelhart

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