As we’re busy preparing for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and other gatherings, I wanted to share some advice I was given when my oldest son was 2 years old. It may help to diffuse the battle of wills that can happen with picky eaters at the holiday table. My brother-in-law and his wife were having a casual family party in their backyard. I believe it was for Labor Day. As I sat there with my little boy, telling him he had to eat the healthy food on his plate before he could have any treats, and he was not cooperating, I got a little advice from two of my sisters-in-law and an adult niece who had more experience with children than I did.

This is the gist of what they told me: It’s a holiday. You’re at a party. It’s overwhelming to a 2-year-old to have this many people and this much food around him. If you want your child to eat healthy, feed him really good food at home before the party. Fill him up on oatmeal and raw veggies and applesauce before you leave. Then at the party, let him eat what he wants of the main meal, or nothing at all. Let him have his treats. He’ll have a better time at the party. You’ll have a better time at the party.

That was a freeing moment for me. It made sense, and I’ve followed that advice ever since. I'm sure my family has enjoyed parties and holiday gatherings much more because of it.

There was a very active Facebook thread yesterday on one of the pages I follow about serving kids their own special food on Thanksgiving vs. expecting them to eat what the adults are eating. On most nights, my children eat what I cook. I don't make special meals for them. But on holidays or before big parties, I follow my family's advice and offer them healthy foods before the gathering.

I honestly can’t tell you what my now-teenage sons put on their plates at the Thanksgiving table. They’ve had a good breakfast. They’ve dived into the raw veggie tray before the meal. To police their plates before they have pumpkin pie — and probably make the meal less enjoyable for me, for them, and for others at the table — is not something I care to do at Thanksgiving or any other big gathering.

This is what works for my family, and I have the advice from my extended family to thank for it. Maybe it’s something that will work for your family, too.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The best advice I ever received about handling kids who are picky eaters at holiday gatherings
If policing your child’s plate at a holiday dinner dampens the celebration, this one tip may be incredibly freeing for you and your children.