We’re all for encouraging adventurous eating, but the holidays aren’t the time to stress out about it. Here's how to handle your picky eater and anyone who notices during your festive dinner party.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Updated December 10, 2019
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For as much happiness as the holiday season can bring, it can also bring a lot of stress—especially if your child is a picky eater. There's all the stuff that happens at home, but now it's on display for your friends and extended family to observe, comment on, and judge.

I'm here to tell you that it's okay if your kid doesn't eat the turkey that took all day to cook or the apple pie that Aunt Jean made special just for her. It's okay if your kid only eats the dinner roll.

I was a kid who only ate the dinner roll. I may have had a little bit of plain turkey too, but I certainly didn't put gravy on anything (ew!) and would not touch pie of any kind (way too goopy).

So I understand how picky eaters feel at the holiday table, surrounded by people who are piling food on their plates and asking why you're not eating. Now that I'm a mom, I also know what it's like to feel like your kids—and your parenting—are being critiqued.

The holidays are a tough time for picky kids. There are distractions of all kinds: parties and gatherings with cousins and friends to play with, new houses to explore, the excitement of presents to open. Even kids who reliably eat lots of different foods may only pick at meals in those settings. And between once-a-year dishes, potlucks, and dinners at relatives' houses, there are plenty of unfamiliar (read: scary) foods.

There are times to explore and encourage new foods, and there are times to aim for a more balanced-looking meal. Big holiday meals are not that time. I suggest you enjoy the holiday foods you love and give your picky eater some extra grace.

In the meantime, here's how to handle those well-meaning folks who are happy to tell you how should handle your child's eating (spoiler: it involves lots of tough love): Keep it simple and change the conversation. Something along the lines of, "Thank you for thinking of us. We're not focusing on that today, but I'd love to hear about your trip to Alaska."

And believe me, there's hope. Now that I'm a grown-up, I happily eat turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, all covered in gravy. And I love (and even make) all kinds of pie, except pumpkin (that texture still gives me the heebie-jeebies). Just because your child doesn't eat all those foods now doesn't mean she never will—and even more importantly, it doesn't mean you've failed.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a Contributing Editor for Parents magazine and a registered dietitian who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a no-judgements zone about feeding a family. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids and Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. You can follow her on Facebook, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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