How to Plan a Thanksgiving Dinner for Picky Eaters

How to Plan a Thanksgiving Dinner for Picky Eaters

Pumpkin pie, roasted turkey, green bean casserole, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Yum! Even though Thanksgiving is a time for family bonding and gratitude, Thanksgiving food is always at the top of everyone’s mind. Thanksgiving dinners are rich in family traditions, recipes passed down for generations, and yet -- Thanksgiving can be a struggle for parents of picky eaters. 

Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner or you’re visiting families, here are several tips to plan a balanced (and enjoyable) Thanksgiving dinner for picky eaters. 

1. Prepare a Go-To Food Your Child Loves

For children who enjoy the same foods every night for dinner, Thanksgiving dinner can be challenging, and like most people, not eating can lead to one hangry child. To avoid a hangry child, make sure that there is at least one food your child loves to eat. This is easy if you’re hosting dinner, but what should you do if you’re visiting a relative for dinner? Here are a few tips to ensure your child has dinner options:

  • Ask your relative what to expect for dinner (and if they’re already serving a go-to food, then no worries!)
  • Serve your child’s plate (rather than a relative who might not know your child’s preferences) e.g.,  maybe your child just wants to eat mashed potatoes and cucumbers from the salad bar
  • Bring a container with a meal already cooked (your host won’t be able to spare the stove space on Thanksgiving so make sure you won’t require any stove space)

Easy meal ideas include macaroni and cheese (already cooked and ready to microwave), microwave cups (soup, mac and cheese), bento boxes filled with your child’s favorites.

Tip: I have arrived at many Thanksgiving dinners with pre-made meals for my now 9-year-old. When he was going through his picky stage (I promise they outgrow it!), I would bring rice and broccoli for him. He loved that combo, and I could always count on him to eat it. All I had to do was microwave it, which was easy peasy on a busy holiday.

Not only will this keep your child’s tummy satisfied, but it also shows your child that you care about his or her meal preferences. 

2. Involve Your Child in the Cooking


Some of my most favorite memories are cooking with my mom and grandmother on holidays, and that includes Thanksgiving. If your child is picky, try engaging your child in the kitchen. Ask your child if they’d like to plan the menu and/or help in the kitchen. You can ask questions like:

  • What type of vegetable should we make?
  • Do you like peas or green beans more?
  • How should we cook the sweet potatoes? Baked or mashed?
  • Do you know why turkey is healthy for you to eat?

Depending on the age of your child, the extra hands in the kitchen can be quite useful. Examples of tasks include washing vegetables (even an older toddler can scrub potatoes with a brush in the sink), peeling potatoes or chopping vegetables (only for older kids or teens who have already been taught proper knife safety), tearing up bread for bread pudding or stuffing, rolling out dough, helping measure ingredients, and stirring batters or salads.

Involving a picky child in the kitchen can increase the likelihood that he or she will eat the food...or at least try it. 

3. Give Your Child Choices

A picky child won’t suddenly become unpicky on Thanksgiving, but it is a good opportunity for your child to try new foods. Instead of forcing your child to try all of the new foods, provide choices for your child. 

  • Which vegetable do you want to try? 
  • Do you want gravy or no gravy?
  • Do you want turkey on a roll or turkey cut into pieces?

Children who are exposed to choices are more likely to actually try the food. 

4. Make Connections for Your Child 

Does your child already love candied yams or pumpkin? Encourage your child to try sweet potato casserole and explain that it’s very similar to the yams and pumpkin pie. This idea is called a food bridge. Other food bridges include:

  • Trying green bean casserole if your child already will eat plain green beans
  • Eating cranberries if your child already likes jam
  • Trying turkey slices if your child already eats deli sandwiches or Lunchables 
  • Trying mashed potatoes if your child already likes French fries

Always offer new foods. Your child might not take you up on the offer every time, but eventually, he might! 



5. Test Out Thanksgiving Food Early

One of the most difficult parts of feeding a picky eater on Thanksgiving is that many of the foods eaten on Thanksgiving are new to children since they don’t eat them (or even see them) throughout the year. If your child is prone to rejecting new foods, test out a few Thanksgiving foods before your family dinner.

6. Make the Food More Appealing to Your Child

Sometimes, picky eaters need a little modification to the standard Thanksgiving food before they try them. Is your child a broccoli-hater? Add cheese sauce or butter and parmesan to broccoli to make it more palatable for the pickiest eaters. For mashed sweet potatoes, mix in butter and cinnamon sugar. Is your child not into turkey? Add a few slices to a roll so it resembles a sandwich.

7. Focus on the Family Traditions and Make Memorable Moments


Turn on a holiday-themed playlist, set out festive decor, and enjoy family togetherness. Try not to stress if they are only eating cucumbers or rolls. 

Do you have any go-to tips for picky eaters?

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