By Michael Russell, Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student
Wanting our children to eat healthier is a strong desire for many parents and learning how is a subject of much research. I myself am about to introduce my first child into the world in May and I am very excited to do so. I recently wrote an article about making your own baby food and the benefits of it, so I wanted to do some research into getting children to continue at eating healthier. After conducting some research there was one aspect of a child’s ability to eat healthy that kept jumping out at me, that was that they may be picky eaters. I started to think back to how I was as a child and at times how difficult it was for my mom to get me to eat my fruits and vegetables so I decided to do some research on the topic and this is what I learned.
As your child continues to develop, from baby to child, they may go through a stage where they question the unknown and try to exert control over their environment. At this point in their development, they may become what we know as a picky eater. Again, this is completely normal so as parents we need to game plan and learn to deal with it. A very important ability for any parent is to understand the meaning behind what your child is saying when it comes to eating healthy foods.
- “It tastes yucky!” We as human are conditioned to assimilate sweetness with survival, an example of this is breast milk. While on the opposite side of the spectrum bitter tasting foods may mean something that is toxic. What we may forget as adults is that children have several other taste buds than us and food will register as more intense to them. So consider a lemon, to a child it is extremely tart and will cause them to believe there may be something wrong with eating it. Some children may even be hypersensitive to certain flavor profiles which may also play a part in what and how they eat.
- “I am not hungry”: There are several factors that go into your child not really being hungry at the time you want them to eat. Two of those factors are you may be serving way too much food at dinnertime and secondly your dinnertime may be too rigid. First, let us keep in mind that children typically consume far less than adults, so if they’ve eaten a snack between lunch and dinner they may truly not be hungry. As for your dinnertime being too rigid, keep in mind that your child really doesn’t want to be sitting around the dinner table for more than ten to fifteen minutes so you have to prepare for an unruly child if you are expecting them to stick around for much longer.
- “This is boring”: Sorry to break it to you but maybe what your serving is really boring, and I don’t mean flavor profile boring, but visually boring. Our children at this time are developing their imaginations and likes and dislikes. If they are given something that lacks any visual stimulants, they are more likely to disregard it as boring.
Now that we have a better understanding as to what our children mean we can now set up a strategy on how to introduce healthier foods to their diets.
- Don’t use bribery: Like I mentioned above your child may not be hungry because their stomachs may truly be full so try not to use bribery as a means to get them to eat. Don’t tell them if they clean their plate they may be allowed to watch their favorite show. This may lead them to associate mealtime with anxiety and may cause them to become less sensitive to their bodies fullness and hunger cues.
- Stick to your schedule: Serve meals consistently at the same time to get your child into a routine of when to expect to eat. It is said that a child must try something ten to fifteen times before they decide if they like it or not.
- Make it fun: As I mentioned above, children like visual stimulation, so make meal time interactive and fun. When serving new, healthier foods set it up so that the plate is entertaining to the child. Make a face out of fruits and vegetables, serve vegetables with a sauce for dipping, serve them breakfast for dinner (one my favorites even as an adult) and introduce a lot of brightly colored foods.
- Food shopping buddy: When you go food shopping and your child is with you have them pick out some fruits and vegetables. If they feel like they are contributing to the meal, they will mostly like become invested and want to eat what they picked out.
- Lead by example: You can’t expect your child to eat something that you, yourself, will not. If you want them to buy into healthy eating, you too have to buy into as well.
- Get Creative: When introducing new fruits and vegetables be creative and think of ways to integrate them into other meals. Some great ways to do this is to chop fresh vegetables and serve them on top of pasta and use fresh fruits slices on top of cereal.
- Avoid Distractions: It is sometimes difficult enough getting and keeping your child’s attention but when you are asking them to do something they do not enjoy it will be even harder so avoid distracting them any further. Do yourself a favor and turn off the television and any other electronic devices. This is an important time as far as developing a relationship with your child so limiting their distraction as well as your own is paramount.
- Dessert should not be a reward: When you withhold dessert it leads the child to believe that dessert is the best meal and can cause the child to desire sweet foods. Limit dessert nights to once or twice a week or reconstruct desserts to include fresh fruits.
- Cook only one meal: If your child rejects the first meal do not cook them a separate meal. Get them to understand that they are only going to eat what you make them.
- Serve in a compartmentalized plate: Some children’s pickiness may result from foods touching, investing in a compartment plate will separate the foods and allow the child eat without anxiety.
- Limit drinks and snacks: Do not allow your child to fill up on beverages and avoid stuffing them with too many snacks in between meals.
1. Cicero K. Proven Strategies for Picky Eaters. 2016. Available at:
http//www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/picky-eater-strategies/. Accessed February 23, 2016.
- org. Nutrition for Children and Teens: Easy Ways to Help Your Kids Eat Healthier.
- Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/nutrition-for-children-and-teens.htm. Accessed February 23, 2016.
- org. Children’s nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters – Mayo Clinic. 2016. Available at:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948?pg=1. Accessed February 23, 2016.
- Micco, N. How to Handle Picky Eaters. 2016. Available at:
http://www.parenting.com/article/picky-eater-kids. Accessed February 23, 2016.
- Speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com. Picky Eater or Feeding Disorder?.
- Available at: http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/Picky-Eater-or-Feeding-Disorder.aspx. Accessed February 23, 2016.
Hello! My name is Michael Russell and I am a nutrition communication student at Arizona State University. I am originally from northern New Jersey where my love of food was nourished by my mother’s cooking and the different types of foods that were ready and available near and around me. As I grew I toyed with the notion of becoming a chef but as I watched one of my best friends deal with the demand of working in a New York kitchen I knew it wasn’t for me, though I still wanted to be involved with food.
So while I was still living in New Jersey I decided to enroll in a few nutrition classes at Montclair State University. Soon after I met my wife and fell in love. In September of 2012 we got married and by February of 2013 we moved out to Arizona.
In January of 2014 I decided to enroll at ASU a dietetic major. A quick visit with my guidance counselor helped me plan out my future in the nutrition field because she introduced me to the nutrition communications major. I thought this was a great opportunity for me to combine my knowledge of food and my love for story telling. I chose to take the writing path of the nutrition communications major and was given an opportunity to write for the Arizona Farm Bureau.
This a great time in my life because not only am I developing my future career skills but my wife and I are expecting our first child on May 20th. His name is Harrison and we cannot be more excited to meet him!