Healthy Beginnings

Picky Eaters? End the Food Battles with These Nutritionist-Approved Tips

By Jodi Pettersen, RDN, LD

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How often do you try as a parent to convince your child to eat better? Usually, the answer is, “I don’t care.” The reason is they just know they are doing fine and don’t really think of the future and consequences poor eating habits have on their health. Even as a Registered Dietitian, my own children battle with me but I know one day they will say, “Mom was right.” At least, I hope. Today, childhood obesity is so prevalent and many children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and other medical issues at a young age. The best we can do is encourage our children to make good choices, and here are some of the ways we can accomplish this task:

Have regularly scheduled family meals: Children like the predictability of having family meals, and parents also get some time to catch up and learn what’s going on in his/ her daily life. Kids who do sit down with their family tend to eat more fruits/veggies and snack less on unhealthy foods. Parents also get to serve as role models when preparing healthy meals. Make meal time a calm, happy place and not one with lecturing and arguing. We all have crazy schedules, so I do hear often that heading for the fast food drive-through is a standard practice for many families.

Food planning and preparation is key. Take a Sunday to prepare healthy meals for the week, and encourage the kids to help with menu planning. This will help you avoid the fast food trap, cut down on eating out and save money.

Stock the house with healthy foods. Fill your kitchen with fruits and vegetables, and even cut and bag these foods to make them more accessible for those lazy eaters. When shopping, choose whole grain breads and cereals, non-fat or low-fat dairy products and limit the use of sugary drinks such as soda, juice and sports drinks (unless your child is really working hard outdoors and in sports, and needs those electrolytes replaced). Make easy-to-grab snack combinations such as whole grain crackers paired with low-fat cheese, or peanut butter and apples.

Be a role model for your child. If we model good habits, our children are more likely to follow. If we as parents only serve fried foods and chips, then that is what our children will eat and grow up to eat.

Don’t battle over food. Give children some control in decision making, but still limit some of those food items in the house. Also, don’t try to bribe children with food (such as offering them dessert if they eat their meal). Avoid forcing kids to finish everything on their plates, and don’t use food as a way to show love. Instead, give them affection, time or praise.

What if you have a picky eater and you are extremely frustrated? How can you deal with this issue? Some kids will only eat one food at a time, or will not accept certain textures or new tastes. Try to present a food 10-15 times before giving up. Encourage your child to try new foods, but don’t force them and create more stress and anxiety. Try putting foods in new shapes with cookie cutters, or presenting the food in a more interesting way. However, try not to get into working as a short order cook for your child. Making multiple meals gets very old, and kids will take advantage of the situation knowing that mom or dad will make them a special food item (which may stop them from trying new foods).

Lastly, encourage daily activity for your child. Our children today lead much more sedentary lifestyles due to the influence of new technology. Finding some things you may like to do as a family such as hiking, biking or swimming can get everyone outside and having fun. Our children are our future, so let’s do everything we can to encourage healthy eating and exercise.

Jodi Pettersen, RDN, LD, is a licensed, registered dietitian with over 20 years of experience. For more information, call Jodi at 775-720-3490 or visit