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6 Tips to Encourage Picky Kids to Try New Thanksgiving Foods

Guest post by Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Debbie Hanyon

My son has sensory issues with food and has since birth. As a result, I have discovered that forcing him to eat foods he can’t tolerate or waiting until he is hungry enough to eat the foods he hates doesn’t work.

Over time, I have found ways to encourage him to at least eat more of a variety of foods than he may otherwise eat.  Here are six simple tips on how to encourage your picky eater to eat healthy foods on Thanksgiving.

1. Serve at least one favorite vegetable (or fruit, if she doesn’t like veggies) as part of the meal.

For example, my son likes broccoli the best, but he also likes carrots. Since carrots (and fresh green beans) are part of our traditional Thanksgiving meal, we won’t have to serve anything extra for him.

2. Serve combination foods separately.

For example, my son is not willing to eat most combination foods. By serving the parts of mixed dishes separately, I can encourage him to eat more variety. 

This year for Thanksgiving I discovered a salad that I know everyone except my son will like. The reason I’m going to serve this salad is:

  • It’s healthy
  • The recipe has several foods he likes--if they are served separately
  • It looks delicious!

The salad recipe I'm using calls for sliced apples, celery, cheese cubes, pecans and lettuce. Most young children will eat the lettuce, apples, and cheese. If they don’t have an aversion to nuts, like my son does, the pecans will probably appeal to them as well (especially if you caramelize them).  If all they eat is the lettuce, apples and cheese, you’ve gotten two servings of veggies and fruit into their cute little bodies! The pecans are rich sources of magnesium and essential fats. So, if they eat the pecans, even better!

I’m planning to serve each food ingredient in a separate bowl and will offer multiple salad dressing options. This won’t require more work because when preparing a salad, I chop everything up separately. The only extra work will be cleaning the dishes.

You could offer this salad to your guests in either a salad bar (buffet style) or you could fancy it up by placing the dressing on the table in a cute salad dressing bottle and the salad ingredients in fancy dishes. 

As a bonus, the little ones can pick up these foods with their hands, which I know toddlers love to do!

3. Encourage your child to try at least one new vegetable or fruit. 

For example, we have green beans every year. They are southern style and have salt pork and onions in them. Okay, so problem number one, it’s a combo food. Problem number two, it’s not a preferred vegetable. Problem number 3, he doesn’t really care for green beans. So, this year my challenge is for him to put one green bean on a plate (just the green bean) and take a small taste. Then if he likes it, he can have more. If not, we’re done with the little challenge/battle (unfortunately it WILL be a battle, but just a little one—pick your battles is REAL!!)

*Note: If your child does not want to taste this food, praise them for allowing you to put the food onto their plate then move on!

4. Make sure your child is hungry by the time you serve the meal.

Snacking all day long will obviously dampen anyone’s appetite, especially someone with a smaller stomach, like kids. Food always tastes better when you’re hungry. So, if possible, no eating/snacking for AT LEAST 2 hours prior to the main meal. This should help in the enthusiasm department.

5. Try not to worry too much if your child doesn’t want to eat much on Thanksgiving.

It’s a special day, and there are probably a lot of other things going on that are much more interesting than eating. Kid’s usually eat less when they’re having fun and are around new or non-routine people.

6. Put small amounts of each food they will be eating on the plate.

They can always ask for more! Sometimes an overfull plate can overwhelm the child and cause them to lose interest in eating at all.


If possible, talk to the host ahead of time to get an idea of what will be served. That way you can create strategies ahead, especially if your child has sensory issues with or allergies/intolerances to food. 

Pick something you know your child will like and serve it along with the other dishes served, so that it doesn’t appear like you are serving something special just for your child. For example, even if it is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, make enough to share, and put it out there with the other dishes.


About the Author:

Deborah Hanyon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a graduate of Loma Linda University, School of Public Health (MPH). She worked for the WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) program for several years, and has homeschooled her 13-year-old son, who was diagnosed with ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder, and Autism, for over 4 years.

You can check out her brand blog at:

A couple of websites you might find helpful:

FUNBITES Sells dishes for toddlers This site is run by an occupational therapist.


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