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How to Help Picky Eaters Make It Through Thanksgiving

Good eating habits don’t take a holiday. Luckily Thanksgiving dinner for picky eaters can be treated like dinner any night of the week.

Feeding children on a daily basis can be frustrating. Kids can be highly suspect of new foods and flavors. If they are unused to novelty on their dinner plate getting them to put something green or new in their mouths can be a lesson in futility. Which makes the stakes for feeding children on Thanksgiving feel even higher. Not only are kids staring down food they only see once a year, but the refusal of that food can also make them look ungrateful. And looking ungrateful, on Thanksgiving, in front of the entire family looks particularly shameful. Fortunately, nutritionists have some soul-soothing guidelines for the Thanksgiving dinner battle which hold true year-round, whether or not aunties and uncles are bellied up to the table.

Parents Should Fill Kids’ Thanksgiving Plates and Forget About Them

Child nutritionists have one prime directive for parents — bring a healthy, well-balanced meal to the table. And then focus on literally anything besides whether or not your kid eats it.

There are good reasons to avoid browbeating kids into eating what’s on their plates. To begin with, turning dinner into a power struggle transforms what should be a positive bonding experience into a stressful bummer for everyone. Families that eat dinner together stick together, and studies suggest that the kids see a slew of social advantages (less drug use, better test scores, less teen pregnancy). So it’s probably best to focus on the togetherness.

On Thanksgiving, the opportunity for bonding over the dinner table is even greater than usual. Coming down on them in front of the extended family for not trying some casserole sets up a power struggle and embarrasses the kid. Even if your child quells to the pressure and eats the casserole, what you’ve lost in bonding over food and family is simply not worth it.

The Thanksgiving Dinner Should Focus On the Fun

Encourage your children to get involved in the Thanksgiving spirit. Have him or her lead off when it comes to the old “What are you thankful for?” round robin. Or try telling a story around the table, in which each person gets to add one sentence or scene before passing it along. Icebreakers such as these may seem kitschy, but it sure beats political banter and it will help your shy child get involved in the adult conversation (at the main table, where they actually belong.)

Manage Your Kids’ Thanksgiving Dinner Expectations

But it’s still nice when your kid eats. So parents can get an edge by preparing their kids with discussions, pre-feast. Talk through the dishes (perhaps your kids have never met a Brussels sprout or scalloped potatoes or cranberry chutney). A little information on what each food is and how it’s prepared can go a long way toward making new foods palatable to your kids.

Parents who want to go above and beyond can even bring their kids into the kitchen to help prepare part of the meal. This could include peeling and cutting veggies, mashing potatoes, or measuring ingredients. Throw in the liveliness and smells of a holiday kitchen, and many kids will be happy to be within the fray. Besides, kids are more apt to eat dishes they helped create.

Parents Should Manage Relatives Thanksgiving Expectations Too

Of course, none of this advice can prevent grandpa from loudly asking why your kid isn’t eating, or prevent auntie May from mourning the fact that your kids won’t touch her candied yams. But even as your relatives shrewdly imply that your kid isn’t eating because you’re a rotten parent, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize. “Thanks for the concern, but it’s okay, Dad,” should suffice. And once you play up how adorable your picky eater is (what are you thankful for, kiddo? Please say grandma’s jello…) all hurt feelings should be quickly assuaged.