How to get kids to eat their holiday dinner

Year after year, my kids eat a fully balanced Thanksgiving meal that consists of carbs, carbs, and more carbs. It starts with whatever chips/crackers are put out on the appetizer table, continues with a plate full of bread rolls at the main meal, and ends with a full-on face stuffing of whatever type of cookie-cupcake combination is on the dessert tray because nothing says family holiday like a full blown sugar high and crash to end the night.

And a part of me gets it. While I’m over here wondering whether I should make balsamic or honey-roasted carrots, kids simply don’t care about food like we do on the holidays. Except for dessert. They care deeply about dessert.

Add onto that a table of unfamiliar foods (seriously, name one time cranberry sauce has appeared on your kitchen table since last Thanksgiving) and the pressure of parents pushing them to eat because It’s Thanksgiving and you must eat stuffing on Thanksgiving and most kids are all like thanks but I’ll stick to this nice roll.

This year, I’m doing things a bit differently. Here’s what I’m hoping will work for us, and I’d love to hear in the comments below what has worked for you.

Serve something or bring something they will actually eat. This year, I’m making veggies and pumpkin hummus as an appetizer, mostly because I know my kids will probably eat it. I’m not going to bother forcing on them the squash soup (although I will offer). But having something there they like—be it mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, whatever—takes the pressure off of both of you.

Turn unfamiliar foods into familiar ones. I don’t cook a whole turkey on a regular basis, but I do know that my kids will eat a turkey sandwich. Instead of adding slices with gravy to their plates. My kids will have their served up with mayo and on a roll.  Because duh, rolls.

Do a test run. If time allows, create a pre-Thanksgiving family feast (heck, you can buy all the stuff at Whole Foods) so kids learn what types of food to expect that day.

Don’t forget about breakfast and lunch. Adults will go ALL DAY LONG without eating to save room for Thanksgiving dinner. Kids’ bodies don’t work that way. While you might want to save room, make sure you still feed your kids a solid breakfast and lunch so they don’t show up starving and ready to carb-load.

Have them help you make a dish. This year, I asked my son to help me make the cranberry sauce (secretly hoping he’d be more intrigued when we added in all that sugar). When kids help you cook, they’re more likely to eat it, and then feel proud of themselves, so remind Grandma to tell Junior that this is the best cranberry sauce she’s ever had IN.HER.LIFE.

Don’t stress. At the end of the day, if your kid doesn’t eat his meal, the worst thing that is going to happen is that he doesn’t eat his meal. Keeping this in mind takes the pressure off of both of you and makes for a more peaceful meal for all. Remember that one day he will appreciate those bacon-brussels sprouts as much as you do right now. So enjoy your every bite without worrying about his.