Thanksgiving—a holiday often full of elaborate food traditions—can be extra challenging for parents of picky eaters. Who wants a holiday dinner turned into a battle zone filled with whispered bargaining? Fortunately, with a little planning, you can create a balanced Thanksgiving meal the whole family will enjoy!
Here are some tips to please picky eaters without sacrificing nutrition, straying from family traditions or creating a lot of extra work.
Choose at least one food you know your child will like. Whether Thanksgiving will be served at your house or if you will be going to someone else's home to celebrate, make sure to offer or bring at least one food that you know your child will like. This way, your child is guaranteed to eat something during the meal; it also shows your child you care about their preferences when planning meals.
Engage your child in meal planning. Ask your child if they would be interested in helping you plan a Thanksgiving feast. Let them know you plan to offer at least one protein, a grain, a vegetable and fruit. You can tell your child about any foods you are definitely planning to include (such as turkey as a protein and stuffing as a grain). But also ask if they have ideas for the other food groups. For example, "What kind of vegetable do you think we should include? How about a fruit?" Then, together find recipes that use those foods as ingredients. A child who helps choose a food that will be offered is much more likely to actually eat it.
Engage your child in meal prep. Invite your kids in the kitchen to help prepare your Thanksgiving meal. For example, ask your toddler to help clean the vegetables, or your school-aged child to help mash the potatoes, or your teenager to boil the cranberries. When kids help cook food, they often sample what they are preparing, and are more likely to eat their masterpieces later.
Use food bridges. Once a food is accepted, find similarly colored, flavored, or textured "food bridges" to expand the variety of foods your child will eat. If your child likes pumpkin pie, for example, try including mashed sweet potatoes on their Thanksgiving plate.
Make it look, smell & taste delicious. Many times kids think that they won't like a food before they actually try it. Try making a Thanksgiving dish look, smell and taste as delicious as you can. This will up the odds that your child will try it out, like it, and come back for more. Do this by adding fragrant ingredients such a nutmeg and cinnamon to cooked apples—for example—or preparing a veggie tray with the vegetables arranged in the shape of a turkey.
Keep the mealtime relaxing & enjoyable. Focus on enjoying your time together celebrating this day of gratitude. Know you have prepared a balanced meal and taken many efforts to engage your children in the process—increasing the chances of there being at least one food they will like. You have done your job. Then, try not to worry if and what your child is eating.