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March: National Nutrition Month

Posted 2/22/2016 by April Verdi, RDN, LD

Happy National Nutrition Month. If you see a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), be sure to thank him/her for all their hard work in providing your family with research-driven nutrition care. This month, we recognize the role RDNs play in the health of our children.

As a RDN, I’m frequently asked about picky eating: “How can I get my child to eat something else besides chicken nuggets?” With good intentions, you may hear, “Your child will grow out of it.” But months later, you are in my office asking, “What else can I do?”

Here are some tips and strategies you can use to combat picky eating:

  1. Relax. Take a deep breath. Changing a picky eater won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take patience, patience, patience. With patience, we can turn this battle zone into a peaceful zone.
  2. Remove Distractions. Get rid of TV, phones, tablets, etc. during meal time so your child can focus on eating. Food is the most commonly advertised product on children’s programming. And the types of foods advertised are high in sugar, salt and fat. You can limit exposure to these unhealthy choices by limiting screen time to no more than two hours per day.
  3. Serve new foods with familiar foods. Even as adults, when we try new foods, we may hear a friend say, “Have you tried beet greens before, it tastes like spinach?” Instead of focusing on whether or not the food tastes good, try using descriptive terms that focus on color, shape, aroma or texture that your child will understand. And if they don’t like it? That’s OK – have at least one food on the table your child does like. Example, serve carrots if you plan on introducing asparagus for the first time.
  4. Don’t throw in the towel too quickly. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (now Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) found that toddlers need 8-15 exposures of a new food before they liked it. Try different methods of cooking vegetables like roasting, steaming, and sautéing. Also, consider serving a new vegetable with a familiar dip.
  5. Get your child involved. From grocery shopping to helping prepare meals at home, getting your child involved increases the likelihood your child will be interested in the new food. This gives your child a sense of ownership of the process. Model healthy eating behaviors by trying new foods with your child, too. Let them see you enjoy the process.
  6. Avoid being a short order cook. Tailoring your cooking to your child’s preferences may encourage your child to continue being picky. Ellyn Satter, an RDN and family therapist, advocates for a division of responsibility: parent decides when to eat, what to serve and where to serve; and the child decides whether and how much to eat. A simple, “You don’t have to eat it” does the trick. Bribing or forcing – “You can’t leave the table until you’ve had dinner.” – will only lead to an unenjoyable meal time.

Here’s the bottom line: Try the tips above to encourage a healthy meal time environment. If you are concerned that your child’s picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, consult with your doctor and a dietitian.

References:

"Screen Time and Children: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." Screen Time and Children. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 May 2013
Carruth BR. Prevalence of Picky Eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jan; 104(1 suppl 1):s57-64.
Hendy HM.. Effectiveness of trained peer models to encourage food acceptance in preschool children. Appetite (2002) 39(3):217–25.10.1006/appe.2002.0510
Satter EM. Feeding dynamics: Helping children to eat well. J Pediatr Health Car. 1995;9:178-184.
Satter EM. The feeding relationship. J Am Diet Assoc. 1986;86:352-356.
Satter EM. The feeding relationship: problems and interventions. J Pediatr. 1990;117:S181-S189.

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