How to Handle Picky Eaters at the Holiday Table

Are holiday meals stressful for your picky eater? Here’s some advice for handling the situation without frustration.

By Sally Kuzemchak, M.S., R.D.

The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time with friends and family. But we all know they can also be a stressful time, and you may feel like your kids (and your parenting) are on display for everyone to judge. So what happens when your picky eater refuses Aunt Eloise’s famous mashed potatoes or the cherry pie that your mother-in-law made especially for the grandkids?

It’s natural to feel frustrated with your kids when they turn up their noses at food that you or your loved ones spent a lot of time making—or that you know they’d love if only they tried it. What’s worse, your family members may have their own ideas for how you should handle it, and may even offer up their advice right there at the table in front of everyone (“When I was growing up, we couldn’t leave the table until we finished everything on our plate!”).

If you’re worried about handling your picky eater at the holiday table, here’s some advice.

Talk to your kids about what to expect.

Talk about the kinds of foods that will be available and your expectations, whatever they are. Just be sure you and your partner are on the same page. If you’re worried about what family members might say, you can talk to them in advance too. This post from Extreme Picky Eating has some great sample scripts for dealing with negative situations.

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Set the bar low.

Holiday meals are full of distractions for kids, from out-of-town cousins to football games on TV. It’s not the time to hover over your child’s plate telling them to take more bites. It’s especially not a time to nag your kids to try new foods (unless they want to, of course!).

Bring something you know they’ll eat.

You certainly don’t have to whip up a batch of spaghetti for your kids while everyone else has turkey and stuffing. But you can always offer to bring a side dish they like that everyone can share, such as roasted broccoli or mashed potatoes.

Keep some perspective.

Thanksgiving dinner is just one meal. If your kids eat two buttered rolls and a bite of turkey, it’s not a big deal. Serve the healthy foods you know they like at other times that day and week.


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