The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 4, 2012

Choosy children: Nutritionist offers advice to resolve pesky picky-eating habits

By Sarah Guinn
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — It isn’t easy convincing picky-eating children to get the proper amount of nutrition they need, said Andrea McGrew, a registered dietitian and Freeman Health System clinical nutrition manager. But, luckily, there are still ways parents can make sure growing kids get necessary nutrients, she said.

Elementary and middle school-age kids should get from three to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, McGrew said. Fruits usually aren’t a problem, she said, because they are sweet.

Vegetables, on the other hand, are sometimes picked out by picky eaters. As kids get older, they start to see them as gross, McGrew said. She offers parents pointers on how to sneak those undesirable greens into kids’ food.

Start them young

“The best thing to do is start them off early,” McGrew said. Building a healthy nutritional foundation for kids will help them stick to those habits as they get older.

About 17 percent of children and adolescents age 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Because several recent reports have projected obesity to steadily increase, getting the proper amount of nutrients is particularly important.

Health risks associated with childhood obesity include high blood pressure and cholesterol, breathing problems such as asthma, and even self-esteem issues, according to the CDC. The CDC also states childhood obesity makes kids more likely to be obese adults, which puts them at risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.


Be persistent

Kids need vegetables presented to them multiple times, McGrew said.

“It usually takes about three times before they start liking (the vegetable),” she said.

Parents can include vegetables in sauces, or incorporate them into other meals by pureeing them -- parents should get creative with healthy eating, she said. McGrew recommends mixing mushrooms with meat as an example, or including vegetables in a food kids already like.

Putting vegetables on pizza can be a helpful trick in getting kids to eat them, she said.

Regardless of the method, McGrew said parents should maintain consistency and incorporate the disliked vegetable into meals two to three times per week.

Offer choices

If kids feel like they have some control over the situation, they will be more likely to put behind their picky-eating ways, she said.

McGrew says offering kids choices of vegetables will help make sure they’re getting the nutrients their bodies need.

Offering vegetable juices such as V8 can be helpful, but they shouldn’t be the sole source of nutrients, McGrew said. She recommends a vegetable juice that is low in sodium, because high amounts of sodium can be counterproductive in getting kids the right amount of nutrients.

Parents wanting to build a healthy diet for their children can look to MyPlate ( to determine the proper amount of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy their kids need.

There are some good options available to parents to make meals healthier. Whole grain pastas, for example, are a good idea to get kids the grains they need. Low-fat yogurt and low-fat milk are good choices, because they give growing kids the calcium their bodies require.

McGrew recommends avoiding junk food as much as possible. There’s nothing wrong with giving kids treats, she said, but they need to stay away from those empty calorie foods, such as chocolate chip cookies, as much as possible.

Ultimately, how parents approach their own dieting is the biggest factor in building a healthy diet for their child, McGrew said.

“If they see you eating the vegetables consistently, they will be more likely to want to eat those foods,” she said.

Healthy diet

Based on a 2,000 calorie pattern for school-age children, McGrew recommends:

2 1/2 cups of vegetables

2 cups of fruit

3 cups of dairy products

5 1/2 oz. of protein

6 oz. of whole grains