If your child is a selective eater*, you may dread sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner every year. Will they eat anything? Will family or friends pressure them to try foods?
My strongest recommendation for handling a Thanksgiving supper with selective eaters is to go with the flow. It’s one meal, in one week, of a 365-day year. To take the pressure off of table time, shift the focus from food to your family and friends.
5 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving with Kids:
- Make sure there’s at least one thing your child will eat at the meal (bread and butter is fine!). If you’re going to someone’s house, offer to bring a dish your child will eat.
- Proactively set expectations with your family and friends. Alexis Pone is the mother of a 5-year-old who eats a limited selection of foods. She reminds her family that he’s a selective eater and no one needs to comment on it, “so there aren’t fifteen people at dinner saying, ‘try this; don’t you like this?’”
- Involve your children in cooking, even if it’s foods they wouldn’t normally try. Pone always includes her son in food prep, like making candy pecans, which he might not eat but enjoys making. He gets exposed to different foods, participates in the meal without pressure, and can proudly tell everyone that he helped make dinner.
- Bring an activity for small children like a book of Thanksgiving color-your-own-placemats or a sticker book to help them sit a little longer.
- Let kindness lead. In addition to the food, there’s a lot of stimulation at a big dinner that can overwhelm children; give yourself and them some grace by allowing them extra time to warm up, the opportunity to decide without pressure what they’re comfortable eating, and the chance to politely leave the table to play after the meal. Give them the option to rejoin the table for dessert regardless of what they chose to eat for dinner.
Wishing you and your families a happy, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving!
*I don’t use the word ‘picky’ because it has a negative connotation
Meet FEED's Resident Nutritionist:
Caroline Kaufman, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Caroline Kaufman is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with an A.B. from Harvard and an M.S. in Nutrition from The Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy. Her advice has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including Health, CNN, Prevention, Self, Shape, Oprah, New York Magazine, PBS Parents, and Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.