How to Cope with a Picky Eater Print

Read my quotes from an interview I did on picky eating in kids and what to do about it for Walmart Live Better Magazine by Seema Persaud here:

The first time Andrea Holwegner‘s son had broccoli, he gagged and spit it out. “With his eyes wide open he looked at me as if to say, ‘What was that, mom?'” says the Calgary mom. As a registered dietician, Holwegner hears from parents of picky eaters on a daily basis. After following her own tips, her son now loves broccoli. Holwegner, of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting, and registered dietician Jennifer House, of First Step Nutrition in Calgary, share why and when kids develop poor eating habits, and how you can overcome them:

Younger kids can become picky eaters once solids are introduced to their diet given the new smells and textures, finds Holwegner. Moving from a milk-based diet to infant cereals to minced food can cause toddlers to resist eating. It doesn’t stop there.

“When kids hit the terrible twos, kids want to show more independence,” says Holwegner, which is one of the reasons your child may refuse to eat particular foods. Then, as kids age and enter school, they can be distracted over lunch hour and recess, and a simple lack of encouragement to eat right while at school might prevent your child from eating what you carefully packed in his or her lunch box.

11 ways to overcome picky eating:

1. Give kids a way out

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Holwegner recommends giving kids the option to spit out food if they don’t like it. Consider a “no-thank-you” bowl, as Holwegner calls it, to keep manners in check. Simply tell your child that she can try it and if she doesn’t like it, can spit it out. This helps some kids feel comfortable enough to taste new foods.

2. Prepare the same food different ways

Just because your child doesn’t like raw carrots, doesn’t mean she won’t like it in a soup. To get her son to eat broccoli, Holwegner gave it to him with various dips like hummus and creamy dill sauce.

3. Repeatedly expose kids to the same item

For some kids it takes 15 times before they’ll eat something, says House. “I think parents give up quite quickly,” she says. Some parents stop serving a particular food to their child after three to four refusals, but Holwegner and House both agree – repetition is best.

4. Stick to small portions

Don’t crowd your child’s plate with something she doesn’t like – bigger portions can be overwhelming.

5. Be clear of your responsibilities

House subscribes to eating specialist Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which recommends that parents choose what kids eat, while letting kids choose how much. Parents tend to have a hard time with this area, but both House and Wegner find this tactic successful over time. If your kid wants seconds or can’t finish a large bowl of pasta, let her decide that. “We want our kids to grow up listening to their appetite,” says House. “Things backfire when kids feel like they’re backed into a corner to eat,” adds Holwegner.

6. Don’t cater to dislikes

If you always make your kid exactly what she wants to eat after refusing to stomach what you’ve made for dinner, she’ll learn to expect that in the future and won’t have an incentive to try new things. “If it’s not eaten after 15 to 20 minutes of sitting there, take it away,” advises Holwegner. Hold off on giving your kid food until the next designated meal or snack time to separate the experience. “There’s going to be a meal or snack within a few hours, so they won’t starve,” she adds. Mixing the not-so-favourite food item with items your child is familiar with will help if the next mealtime is far away.

7. Give them choice

Kids appreciate having a say in what they eat, so let them. Give your child specific options for what she can snack on to get her to eat. “You can ask, ‘What type of fruit would you like: grapes, strawberries, blueberries or some of each?'” recommends Holwegner.

8. Get kids involved in meal planning and prep

For snacks and meals, take your kid to the store to help buy groceries and get older kids to help you wash, cut and cook food. Plus, take advantage of warm weather and get kids involved in planting fruits and veggies. “Let them explore the visual and tactile experience of food,” says Holwegner. Her three-year-old son cuts up smoothie ingredients with a dull knife under her supervision.

9. Be an effective role model

If you don’t eat the food your child refuses to eat, you’re going to have a hard time getting her to eat it, too. “If you only eat asparagus once a year at a neighbour’s house, you can’t expect your kids to want to eat it,” says Holwegner.

10. Talk to older kids

Ask tweens and teens how they feel after eating food that isn’t good for them, recommends House. For athletic kids, talk to them about how healthy eating and getting the right nutrients can help with their success and energy, she adds.

11. Schedule regular eating times

Having routine snack and meal times help kids feel hungry at designated hours, so they’ll be more inclined to eat what you put on the table. Limiting access to snacks outside of those hours can help. And, for younger kids, picky eating may have to do with your child being full of fluids like milk, so pay attention to whether that’s the case.

If you’ve tried these steps and still have no luck getting your child to eat broccoli or another food in question, then you may have to accept that.

For more on childhood nutrition, try these healthy snack ideas for kids.

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About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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