Turkey Day Picky Eaters
Jules Kendall
Turkey Day Picky Eaters
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Hi there! I’m Jules, and I write about life, sweet and savory, at Pancakes and French Fries. This is my second guest post over here at My Way Home—my first was about after school snack ideas. Today, I’m talking all about picky eaters during the most gluttonous holiday of the year, Thanksgiving!

There are picky eaters, and there are finicky eaters. There are great eaters, too, but parents aren’t looking for tips on feeding a great eater on Thanksgiving. Give thanks that this post isn’t for you!

A picky eater exhibits the typical erratic eating practices of childhood: eat today, spurn tomorrow; ravenous Monday, uninterested in food Tuesday; usually cautious about new foods. A finicky eater is all the above but with Bold n’ Spicy flavor. They have a small list of foods from which they will eat, and as time goes on the list shortens. New foods, different foods, foods that are not on the accepted list are all a source of stress. Mealtimes are challenging at best and anxiety ridden at worst for everyone involved.

Childhood feeding expert Ellyn Satter calls this Eating Incompetence. I call it my middle brother for most of the 80s.

For a long time he only ate buttered noodles and Mother’s Cookies. He eventually branched out to buttered white rice and Mother’s Cookies. I’m working from memory here, so I’m sure he ate more than that—plain hamburgers (no bun) and French fries from McDonald’s rings a bell—but what I’m failing to remember can’t be more than a few fruits and a couple of unadulterated vegetables.

Today is about feeding the picky or finicky child at Thanksgiving, that day of the year where we express our gratitude for family, friends, and wellness. Thanksgiving is a day of brisk air and warm pies, of togetherness and fellowship and unbuttoned pants. Thanksgiving is a day of peaceful reflection. It is not a day to stage a coup against nuggets.

That’s the first tip. Let it go, at least for today.

Meals are as much for nurturing as they are for nutrition. Everyone should eat what he or she likes, and everyone should experience peace while they eat. Thanksgiving is not the day to win the war against your picky or finicky child, but it’s not the day to become a catering service, either.

That’s the second tip. Create a sense of celebration at your holiday table, not a sense of obligation.

Offer a variety of food at your Thanksgiving table, and don’t limit it to the foods your finickiest eater accepts.

Here are some more tips for making Thanksgiving dinner enjoyable for all eaters.

  • Create a menu that includes protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Give everyone at least one thing to eat, even if it’s just bread or plain rice.
  • Thanksgiving is a great time to try out new recipes, but new foods can be a source of stress for picky eaters. Pair every new or experimental dish on the table with something comforting and familiar.
  • The same philosophy works for least favorite foods. My oldest son is not a fan of kale, but my younger son can eat it by the bushel. My youngest son doesn’t like tomatoes, and my oldest son thinks that’s evidence of brain trauma. Whenever I make kale, I make sure to include a tomato salad. They eat their favorites, and my husband and I eat both. Bonus: it takes the guesswork out of cooking.
  • Your picky eater won’t eat everything at the table. Your picky eater won’t even want to try everything at the table. That’s okay—you’re letting it go, remember? Allow people to pick and choose in quantities they find satisfying.
  • Don’t try to anticipate your picky eater’s latest demand. Stick with what works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s impossible to enjoy your dinner if you put the need of an entire family ahead of your own.
  • Don’t be offended if your picky eater doesn’t want to try the new dish you just know he/she will love.

Make something you love, even if no one else does. Enjoy it, and your family.

- Jules

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Leave Your Thoughts (9 Comments)

  1. Great tips. I’m thankful that other than pickles and mustard not much was on my own son’s “no eat” list. Happy holiday!

  2. Julie ·

    I’d love links to recipes for the last two photos!

  3. Rose ·

    Great article! I really think the “don’t make it a battle” is actually something that helped me and my picky eater in our day to day eating. It just made me stress out, him dig his heels in and it really wasn’t enjoyable for either of us. I make sure he gets his vitamin daily and then we work on the “smell, touch, lick” method when introducing new foods. When he does end up taking a nibble I don’t make him eat more if he doesn’t want to.

  4. Zakary ·

    My sister is 33 and still a picky eater. Salad with no dressings, no bun on her burger, no sauce of any kind on anything. My poor mother.

  5. Susan G ·

    Great post! Mine are pretty good about trying, but once they do, they may never try it again The 23yo still says things like “Remember that time [19 years ago] that I tried cauliflower and it almost made me sick?” Plus, my children are the greatest of traditionalists when it comes to Thanksgiving, so if I try to make something new (oyster dressing) it has to be in addition to the old (cornbread dressing). It gets a little ridiculous!

  6. I like the idea that a holiday can be a break from eating battles. I was picky as a kid, and spurned all things saucy. Thanksgiving was awesome- plain turkey, plain rolls, plain mashed potatoes, plain vegetables. I’d just skip all the casserole-y dishes and have a perfect, bland meal. Thanksgiving was always buffet-style at our house, though, which made it easy.
    And I grew out of it, in case any parents out there are worrying about your own picky kids.

  7. Wonderful tips, Jules! My daughter (now 14) has never liked any of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. We always made peas for her (a favorite), and I remember many years when that is the only thing she ate. When her dad and I divorced, I asked her what she’d really like to have for Thanksgiving–and so I found myself making nachos (along with turkey for her brother) that year. I’ll always remember Thanksgiving that year, in a really good way. Yes, let go of food for a day.

  8. Who knew a post on picky eaters could be enjoyable? Loved it! I especially liked the emphasis on making it enjoyable for everyone–it can be easy to cave and cater to picky eaters. Then, if they’re having an off day and still don’t want what’s on the menu, everyone suffers.

  9. alan ·

    Sometimes what we might call being picky is really a result of culture or some unique family background. I worked with a scottish man here in the USA, when we would eat out as a work group for lunch, he would have either a hamburger without bun and without vegetable, or he would have it without the meat. He was raised to not eat meat and breads in the same meal. Odd to me, but what he was use to. So we always kept that mind so he could have an enjoyable time too And while it was kind when he offered to share some bottled drink from Scotland, when we realized it was full of rusted metal (yes i mean it) we kindly declined.