Dealing with picky eaters on Thanksgiving
November 23rd, 2011
06:00 PM ET
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Dealing with a child who is a picky eater is tough enough, but trying to satisfy the tastes of a picky eater at Thanksgiving is nearly impossible.

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Thirteen-year-old Mitchell Lefreve is one such picky eater. “I like cheese and meat,” said Lefreve. That’s pretty much it. But it gets even more interesting. He’ll eat cheese pizza, but not with meat on it. He’ll eat French fries but with cheese, hot dogs also with cheese, no other condiment.

“It’s very frustrating,” said mom Melanie. She said when she shops for meals for her family of five, she has to consider what Mitchell will eat, which isn’t much.

“He likes tacos,” said Lefreve. “He’ll eat taco meat. Meat, cheese and tortilla,” she said.

“[Taste] is a sense that has been largely neglected over the years and is better understood more recently,” said otolaryngologist Dr. Warren Line. Ear, nose and throat doctors like Line deal with the sense of taste because our sense of smell plays a big factor in taste along with saliva.

We produce saliva. Saliva breaks down the food molecules so they get to our taste buds which gives us the flavor we taste. As we get older, we produce less saliva so we don’t taste flavor as well. This could account for the reason many older people eat blander foods.

The lack of saliva isn’t Mitchell Lefreve’s issue. He just doesn’t like the taste of many flavors.

Flavor expert Bill Baker of Flavor Systems International, producers of flavorings for foods says the science of taste, or flavor, is not easy.

“One guy likes one thing; one guy likes the next thing,” said Baker. “Males and females tend to have different tastes too,” he said. He said it’s hard to explain why you do or do not like something.

“For example, how do describe the taste of an apple?” he said. “If some asks, what an apple tastes like you say…an apple,” he said.

He says when you talk about taste, it’s really the sub-sense of savory we’re talking about. Savory, which is flavor, is reached through the sense of smell combined with our four or five basic tastes.

Melanie Lefreve said her son Mitchell is always a challenge on Thanksgiving. “He’ll eat turkey,” she said. And that is where she got stuck. So really, he’s easy on Thanksgiving, it’s balancing the meal that’s the challenge.

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We're sharing our time-tested Thanksgiving hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities, hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact. Share your questions in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer.

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Filed under: Holidays • Picky Eaters • Radio • Rituals • Thanksgiving • Think

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. David

    I'm glad parents on here realize that it's okay to let your kid not eat things they don't like. I'm a picky eater, always have been and always will be. As a child, I was FORCED, as in PHYSICALLY HELD DOWN FORCED, to eat what I didn't want to. Needless to say, this didn't make me like the foods. It made me hate them even more, if anything.

    Seriously, let your kid choose to eat or not. I would have chosen to not eat almost any time rather than be forced to not eat something I didn't want to.

    And I like what CJ said about compromising. I'm not saying you need to make your kids a special meal. If they don't want what's being served, it won't kill them to go hungry for a night. But if you're making something that you can EASILY and without a problem offer in a way they'd like, then do so. If you're making rice, let them have a bowl of it plain before adding the things you like. It doesn't require any more effort on your part and there's really no reason other than vindictiveness not to.

    One of the things I had a problem with as a child (and still do) was things being mixed together. I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I cannot eat food mixed together. Even if it's something simple that most people like, like turkey and mashed potatoes. I like them both fine on their own, but I cannot and will not eat them together.

    As a child, my parents liked to have things mixed together. They also seemed to find joy in purposefully mixing my food together just to see me get upset. It would be a perfectly fine meal that I would have eaten just fine, until they mix it together. DON'T DO THIS. IT'S NOT FUNNY, IT'S NOT HELPFUL. It actually costs MORE effort to mix things together than to just leave them separate. If your kids want their food separate, let them have it that way.

    I hate it when I see parents tormenting their kids. Shoving food down their throats or trying to make them like their food the same way as you doesn't help anything. All it does is give them food-issues. Especially if your child has a legitimate reason not to like something, such as having OCD, autism, or any other disorder that often presents in picky eating. My parents made meal times something I dreaded daily until I was old enough to say no and big enough to stand up to them. Thanksgiving and Christmas were even worse, since there was so much more food that I didn't like being forced upon me. NO KID SHOULD HAVE TO DREAD CHRISTMAS.

    Do you want your child to cry daily before dinner because they know they're going to have to eat something that they find repugnant? Do you want your child to throw up 3+ times a week because you wouldn't take no for an answer and thought that since you like it, they have to too, making your child's doctor think they have bulimia when it's actually just that they cannot stand the disgusting slop you force down their throats? Then by all means, be a horrible parent and refuse to compromise, force your children to have the same tastes as you.

    I'll tell you right now from personal experience, it won't work.

    November 25, 2011 at 3:07 am |
  2. Janet

    With some autistic kids(mine included)is a hypersensitive palate. My son likes crisp foods(baked chicken, baked bbq pork chops, well done hamburger patties)and my daughter likes creamy and bland foods(refried beans, soft pasta, mashed potatos). Sometimes a food allergy plays a hand in this so I suggest an allergy test. We're not raising enabled kids; blame evolution.

    November 25, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • David

      Thank you for this. I'm glad some people realize that some kids aren't just being picky when it seems that way to an adult.

      November 25, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  3. Gozer the Gozerian

    Parents just need to show some spine. Try a few variations on some despised dish, add some spices or seasonings or whatever, and if little Johnny still wants to throw a fit, you need to assert yourself and say, "Sorry you don't like it, but this is what's on the table." Sometimes little Johnny gets what he likes, sometimes he doesn't. You're the parent. Be a parent. Provide structure and order, even at the dinner table even if it involves broccoli or spinach, and your kids will have to cope. Like I told mine, once they turn 18 and move out, they can have whatever they want, but so long as they're under my roof availing themselves of my food, they go by my rules. Besides, as the parent, aren't you supposed to be the one looking out for your kids' well-being, making sure they get all the proper foods they need? You don't do that by caving every time your little prince or princess tells you what they won't eat.

    SixDegrees at 7:32 has it right. It's not about what your kid will or won't eat. It's about your kid pushing your buttons and telling you who's in charge.

    November 25, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  4. miscreantsall

    This is so stupid…………..enabling and shaping this behaviour of "picky eaters".

    There are STARVING children all over the world and this crap of picky eaters is actually entertained.

    This is an unbelievable paradox!! It makes me sick!!

    Unless there is a medical or allergy reason……….eat what is given and be very very thankful!!!!!!


    November 25, 2011 at 2:13 am |
  5. EBMMommy

    Here are some tips on how to get the picky eaters in your family to diversify their diet:

    (I'm a doctor and mother of three.) Good luck!

    November 25, 2011 at 1:19 am |


    November 25, 2011 at 12:47 am |


    November 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  8. fccolorado

    I always chuckle when people say, "If they don't eat for a few days and go hungry, they'll learn to not be picky." I was a picky eater as a child and was made to try everything. My tastes never did change and I'm 67. I would much rather go hungry (and did if it was something I didn't like) than to eat it; am still that way. Special meals for me were never made; I ate what I "could" at each meal. My three kids eat almost everything, but as my oldest son says, pb&j sandwiches were always a fallback – made by the child.

    November 24, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  9. Gigi

    Parents must be consistent with every meal. Picky eaters should be given a choice between two items, not whether or not they will have everything on the table. By allowing some choice, you will have a more compliant child. Have you wondered why your "picky eater" will eat the same food as their friends when they go to a sleep over?

    November 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  10. Mystic American

    "Picky eating" is a modern thing parents indulge. Back in the proverbial day, parents made what parents made. If the kids didn't want it, they went hungry. As my mother said, I'm not a short order cook. But not today! Today, parents need to kow-tow to their children, and make children-friendly meals of flavorless mac & cheese, chicken fingers, and pre-packaged foods bursting with fat, chemicals, and minimal taste or nutritional value. We are creating a generation of brats who grow up thinking the world centers around their tastes. A few nights of going hungry will quickly cure Junior of pickiness.

    November 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • kjall75

      Soooo agree!! My 4 year old son said (before dinner) that he didn't want any of the food. I said he didn't have to eat, he could go hungry if he wanted, but he would sit there at the table with the family and I would not provide any additional food for him. He ate happily and enjoyed it. It wasn't about the food, he just wanted control of the situation.

      November 25, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  11. Wastrel

    There has never been a need for this article, and there never will be. Even the lesser animals know how to deal with this issue - if the kid won't eat, don't make him eat.

    November 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  12. HarryAzinballs

    How about NOT catering to your brats tantrums? How about that? Some people are too stupid to breed.

    November 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Mike

      I couldn't agree with you more, Harry. I don't like children as is, much less f**king picky eaters that happen to be kids!!! Some ppl in this world do not even know where their next meal is coming from and articles like this make my skin crawl.

      November 24, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  13. CJ

    I love all the people on here talking about how not offering anything else will "cure" kids of it. As a fairly picky adult eater, the willingness (or unwillingness) of my parents to try and convince me that I'd like eating X, Y, and Z had little to do with my actual taste preferences. I have a child, and I do agree, to an extent, that you cannot cater to your kids. On the flip side, as an adult, you should recognize that not everyone has the same taste preferences as you – especially children – and compensate for that when making a meal. It won't kill you to offer plain rice, for instance, instead of ruining that rice by cooking a bunch of vegetables and meat into it before it hits the table. You can always add those things to the rice when it hits the table if you prefer those flavors, but it still gives pickier eaters something more bland that they might like. It allows them to have a bit of control and choose something about their meal, as well. Vegetables and meat are still offered, but not forced, which might make the child more open to trying them. Today, at Thanksgiving dinner, I saw adults in my family forcing their kids to have gravy on their mashed potatoes – WHY? If your kid wants their potatoes plain, let them!

    Again, I'm not advocating making the entire meal revolve around the child's food preferences, or making a separate meal every night for them. But there are compromises you can make. Some people are just not going to like certain foods. Period. No amount of coaxing will make your three year old like that overly complicated dish you just saw someone make on Food Network. Would you pack your child a sandwich you 100% knew they wouldn't like for lunch? I'd say that if you would, that's cruel. So why do the same thing at dinner?

    November 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Sandy

      Just guessing you don't have any kids, because if you did you would realize howa full-time diet of bland, boring foods can make you crazy. That's why you sometimes want to "ruin" the rice by adding something or making that "overly complicated" dish you saw on the Food Network. We can't afford to eat out at adult restaurants on weekly date nights, and we are great cooks, so every so often we make something that tastes good to us, not the kids, and if they don't like it they can come up with something else themselves (we have leftovers available on those nights). As for the parents making the kids have gravy on their potatoes, here is why they do it: because if you don't force the kid to try something they think they don't like, they will never figure out when their tastes change (and they will). There's also the human desire to have your kid try something you know is good that you spent a long time making. Adults do this to each other all the time - "hey, you have to try this!" - it's not a parental failing.

      November 25, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  14. Mary

    My son was raised to eat what is on the table. As a result he LOVES vegetables. He prefers salad over dessert any day. He knows I won't tolerate picky eaters.

    November 24, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Mike

      Amen Mary!! I could not agree with you more!!

      November 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  15. Maria

    I'm a picky eater at 28. There are many things I don't eat and it has less to do with the flavor but more so the texture. For the most part I eat the main course and skip out on the extras, and I like my food clean, I like salads dressing-, oil- and vinegar-free. No cheese and no cream. My lactose-intolerance adds to my pickyness. I don't like spicy foods either, they make feel bad. Weird thing is, I like olives and sushi and strange kinds of food. I don't throw tantrums or get upset at people for not eating food I don't like, I just don't eat it. It doesn't bother me, but it seems to bother other people, like I'm being rude. I'm not. If I started complaining, then I'd be rude. Just FYI picky eating is not all about control or fussyness, scientist are starting to look into what might be behind picky eaters. It could be that chemical responses are different for picky eaters than people who aren't picky.

    November 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  16. joan

    What exactly is this article about?

    November 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Your Uncle

      It's about reading comprehension.

      November 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  17. carrieanne

    Im not a short order cook. My husband and sons can eat what I prepare or its nothing til the next meal. No picky eaters in my crowd.

    November 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Your Uncle

      Amen sistah!

      November 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  18. yourmom

    Tell'em to eat it or starve. Lol, compromise m ass.

    November 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • jeannie 807

      My Mother would never have made special meals for the kids – if you didn't like it too bad. That's what's for dinner so live with it. On our birthday she would make the dinner of our choice. Today's children think they're the center of the universe, (until they go to find a job and can't get one). The parents aren't doing them any favor by catering to them. So, you might have to eat something you don't like, big deal, lots of families don't have enough to eat. Get over it!!

      November 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  19. us1776

    Picky eaters on Thanksgiving?

    No food on Wednesday does the trick.


    November 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  20. Lee

    I have observed grandkids, nieces, nephews and other children for several years. In some cases it appears to be a control thing, i.e., the one thing they can control over adults. One nephew responds emphatically with "I don't like that" , "I don't want that" , or "I won't eat that" and the parents let him eat all the cheese, starch. carbohydrates, chips, pancakes with syrup and sugar loaded food he wants and no vegetables or fiber foods. Any surprise that more children grow up with eating disorders, overweight, or higher incidences of diebetes at ever younger ages?

    November 24, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  21. Sarah

    Just do what my parents did: told me and my sister if we didn't like it, we didn't have to eat it. BUT we couldn't have/make anything else either. One night a week we each made dinner, it could be whatever we wanted. But otherwise, you went hungry if you didn't want what was served. Cured us up really quickly of being fussy. Children aren't going to let themselves starve.

    November 24, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  22. Western Mom

    He's 13 and she's STILL catering to his baby tantrums of "I won't eat THAT"?? This is just so wrong - and it's an example of everything that's wrong with today's parenting. Children need to know they are "part" of the big picture, not the center. It's only through this that they'll be properly prepared for real life, not get to adulthood thinking they're still the center of the universe.

    November 24, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  23. JJ

    Picky child gets a choice of whatever healthy items are offered on the table. Including nothing, if they so choose.

    November 24, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Jody

      Love it....

      November 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  24. SixDegrees

    Thanksgiving, more than just about any other meal, offers a huge variety of foods at the table. My advice on fussy children: let them eat what they want, or not eat anything if that's what they choose. Believe it or not, they won't starve if they miss one meal, although they may learn something helpful about not being the center of the universe if they find themselves a little hungry once the food's been packed away. It doesn't bother me that kids won't eat something, but it does bother me when parents cater to them and prepare Chicken McNuggets at every single meal for their fussy, special little child because "that's the only thing he'll eat". No it isn't, but he knows that he can control you and he has no hesitation when it comes to pushing your buttons and making you do what he wants.

    November 24, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • Jody


      November 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  25. hemo

    forget family and friends. i eat alone and hate when when people are around. so i dont have to worry about it

    November 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Nobs

      Makes for a much nicer meal...

      November 24, 2011 at 10:40 am |
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