John Muir Health’s Pediatric Nutrition Services experts offer nutrition assessments, consultations and menu suggestions to help parents navigate their kids' dietary issues such as picky eating, obesity and food allergies. Physician referral for insurance coverage may be required. To learn more, call (925) 941-7900.
Need help in the meantime? John Muir Health pediatric dietitian Johanna Kammerer M.P.H., R.D., offers these strategies for helping your whole family eat better:
- Have set mealtimes. Children need to eat often, so provide three meals a day, plus two snacks. Don’t let kids graze all day long, Kammerer cautions. That can lead to overeating and poor food choices. Juice, especially, can kill appetite while pumping kids full of sugar. Kammerer recommends no more than 4 to 8 ounces of juice a day. “I’m a big fan of water when kids are thirsty,” she says. “Add fruit and vegetables like strawberries and cucumbers to make it fun.”
- Boost fruits and veggies. Upping the amount of fresh produce at meals and snacks will go a long way toward improving your family’s diet. Have cut-up vegetables and fruit washed and ready to go, and you might be surprised to see your kids reaching for carrots after school.
- Don’t be a short-order cook. It’s up to parents to decide what to serve, Kammerer says. Giving in to individual requests just sets children up to be picky and makes mealtime a big chore. She reassures parents that if you keep presenting healthy, balanced meals, kids will ultimately find enough to eat.
- Involve the family. Trips to the farmers market or grocery store can get kids excited about what’s on their plate. Let them help in the kitchen, too. Picky eaters are more inclined to give something a try if they’ve helped prepare it, and junk-food lovers may gain a new appreciation for real food.
- Make mealtimes fun. Sit down together, talk about the day, and definitely avoid food battles. “It’s the parent’s job to provide healthy food, but not to control how much a child eats,” says Kammerer. Let kids learn to figure out for themselves when they’ve had enough.
- Eat healthy food yourself and keep junk food out of the house. Occasional treats are fine, but if your diet is primarily wholesome, your kids are more likely to follow your lead.