How to Handle Picky Eaters at the Holiday Table

If holiday meals are stressful for you and your picky eater, here's some advice!

Family sitting at holiday dinner table
Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

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!").

As a former picky eater myself (who would never, ever get near that gelatinous cranberry sauce) who now has two pretty normal kids when it comes to eating (they love homemade rolls but are cautious about the green bean casserole), here's my advice:

Talk to your kids in advance 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 spouse are on the same page (read: When Parents Don't Agree on How To Handle Picky Eating). 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.

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. I'm not suggesting you whip up a batch of mac-n-cheese 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 even a fruit or veggie tray.

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.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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