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How To Ensure Adequate Nutrition for Picky Eaters

Medically reviewed by Caroline Salozzo | Published August 11, 2023

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Here at Begin Heath, we know that mealtimes with picky eaters can be a daunting challenge for parents to ensure their kiddos are meeting their nutritional needs. Picky eaters tend to be selective about their food choices, often favoring only a few familiar items while rejecting others. This makes it especially difficult for our little ones to consume nutrient-dense foods that are critical for their growth and development. However, with patience and a strategic approach, parents can help their picky eaters obtain balanced nutrition. As a pediatric dietitian, I have a few tips to share that can help meet the nutritional needs of picky eaters while keeping mealtimes stress-free and enjoyable for both parents and their little ones.

Picky Eaters and Missing Key Nutrients

Studies have found that picky eaters tend to have lower intakes of iron, zinc and fiber as a result of low meat intake and limited fruits and vegetables [1]. These nutrients can have an impact on a kid’s microbiome and their stooling patterns. Specifically, a lack of fiber can often be a contributing factor for constipation. As you are working to increase fiber and overall food diversity in your kiddos’ diets, a supplemental source of fiber such as Growing Up Prebiotics can be beneficial for kiddos as a way to increase their fiber intake. This prebiotic blend contains 3 grams of fiber from the chicory root plant to support softer and more frequent stooling [3].

Picky Eaters and Ensuring Adequate Calories

When it comes to promoting a balanced diet with picky eaters, let’s first assess if they are eating the right amount of food on a daily basis. A few easy factors to help determine if they are eating adequate calories include:

  • Physical Growth. Is your little one continuing to grow and maintaining their growth curve? If so, this is a sign that they are meeting their total daily calories. If not, then it’s important to evaluate the total calories or volume of food consumed each day. If weight gain is low over time, focus first on increasing the total daily volume of food consumed.

  • Snacking Habits. Does your kid constantly graze? If so, your kiddo child may not be eating enough at mealtimes because they are grazing all day. If grazing is consistent, work to increase the time between meals and snacks. Grazing can hinder overall intakes at meals and reduce natural hunger cues. Consistent snacks and grazing can affect mealtime volume because it does not allow our kids to get hungry before a meal. When they sit down for a meal they will not eat a mealtime volume because they have trained themself to have small snacks to satisfy throughout the day. Implementing meal structure that includes both timing and portions can help increase total volume of food consumed.

After evaluating both the volume of food and overall snacking habits and inadequate calories is still a concern, additional calories can be provided with nutrient dense foods such as olive oil, avocados, and nut butters such as almond butter (or choice of nut butter) as an additional boost of calories, without significantly impacting mealtime volume.

Provide a Diverse Option of Foods

Adequate nutrient diversity is crucial for picky eaters. This can be supported by providing your kids’ a diverse option of foods. Try to offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein sources. There are two additional ways to support this:

  • Lean into your kids’ preferences while working to expand their overall palette. It’s okay if your child will only eat fruit while you are trying to increase their interest in vegetables, or vice-versa. Similar to vegetables, fruits will also have different nutrient profiles, so focusing on increasing overall diversity can also help them obtain different vitamins and minerals.

  • Try introducing a few fruits every few weeks as they are making progress in expanding their palate. A very important note for when our kiddo is trying a new food is to make sure the food is introduced to everyone in the household. This ensures that your little one is not trying the new food alone and reinforces the principle of modeling to promote a healthy environment.

Modeling a Healthy Environment

Creating a low pressure environment is crucial at mealtimes. Eating with your kids’ will help promote a healthy environment because of an idea called modeling. Modeling is when your little ones see you implementing a behavior and repeating it on their own. Try eating the foods you are encouraging your kiddos to eat together during mealtimes. Research suggests that eating together as a family a minimum of three times per week can have positive outcomes on total fruit and vegetable intakes and diet diversity [2]. Spending time together and engaging with your children during meals without distractions of tv, electronics or toys will also support a healthy environment.

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Ensuring balanced nutrition for picky eaters can be challenging, as they often miss key nutrients like iron, zinc, and fiber due to limited food choices. Assessing their calorie intake and implementing structured meal times can ensure they consume enough food. Encouraging diverse food options and modeling healthy eating habits can help expand their palate and promote a positive mealtime environment.

In addition, a prebiotic supplement like Begin Health’s Growing Up Prebiotics can help increase fiber intake, supporting healthier stooling patterns. Remember, picky eating is not something that happens overnight and will take time to improve and see progress, so be patient and remember consistency is key. For additional tips on expanding your picky eater’s food palette, check out our blog on Four Tips to Expand Your Kid’s Food Palate.

View Citation

  • [1] Taylor CM, Emmett PM,. Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutr Soc. 2019 May; 78(2):161-169. Doi: 10.1017/S0029665118002586. EPUB 2018 Nov 5. PMID: 30392488; PMCID: PMC6398579.
  • [2] Jones BL. Making time for family meals: Parental influences, home eating environments, barriers and protective factors. Physiol. Behave. 2018 Sep 1;193 (Pt B): 248-251. Doi: 10.1016/j.phybeh.2018.03.035. Epub 2018 April 6. PMID: 29630963
  • [3] Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferré, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llauradó, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S., & Escribano, J. (2016b). The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(5), 587–594.