Best parent-tested tips to survive Thanksgiving with picky eaters

Shot of an unimpressed-looking little boy sitting in front of a plate of vegetables

Best parent-tested tips to survive Thanksgiving with picky eaters


Best parent-tested tips to survive Thanksgiving with picky eaters


For foodies, there may be no better holiday than Thanksgiving, which is an entire day that revolves around one meal. For picky eaters (and their parents) though, Thanksgiving can be a long, stressful, hunger-filled day. Over the years, I’ve learned a few ways to take the stress out of the holiday and add some fun in.

We typically travel for the weekend, so when my kids arrive at our destination, they’ve been in the car for nearly four hours. Snacks have happened, they may or may not be hungry, and they may or may not be ready to be cordial to 20 other guests. Regardless, this is typically my game plan:

Don’t make the whole day about the meal

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When I asked my kids what they liked best about Thanksgiving, their answers were “playing with cousins” and “being at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” When I asked about favorite foods, they both said, “Dessert, I guess?”

Based on my informal survey of two, I’d say the food is not priority for a lot of children. Instead, they enjoy family company.

Rather than stress them out about what they may or may not eat, focus on other things, like:

Setting the table

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Involve kids in setting the table and getting the house ready for the feast. Place cards and decorations make any meal more fun.

Bring kids into the kitchen

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Maybe they’ll try the food they helped make, maybe they won’t. But helping in the kitchen will create its own set of memories for children. A quick Google search will bring up several easy-to-make, turkey-themed eats that older children will enjoy making. My family typically turns dinner rolls into turkeys, and they are always a big hit.

Create new family traditions

Maybe it’s an Uno game after dinner or a family walk after the kitchen is clean. Whatever it is, kids are more likely to enjoy being with family actively doing something rather than sitting at the dinner table.

While those tips can help, there’s still usually a big meal to contend with at some point during the day. Here’s the best advice I can give in this arena, as a parent of two kids who don’t eat much of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner:

Keep your strategy the same as at home

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If your family is planning a large, traditional meal, don’t expect your picky eater to suddenly want to try something new. If your normal rule is three bites of everything, stick with that. If your normal rule is for children to serve themselves, stick with that.

Prep for the big day

You could start introducing your child to turkey sometime around Labor Day and hope it “takes” by Thanksgiving. Or you could practice table manners on a daily basis. Even if your picky eater is only eating a dinner roll and applesauce, he can sit at the table and make conversation during the meal.

In my experience, people comment less on what your child may or may not be eating if they’re being polite at the table.

Good table manners include keeping negative comments about the food to yourself, sitting until you’re excused and helping clear the table after the meal.

When I look back at Thanksgiving memories, while I have favorite foods I enjoy, what I really remember is time with family. With a little planning, that will be what my kids remember, too.

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