Beating Picky Eating

Registered dietician Monica Auslander Moreno is well-versed in the world of fussy eaters. Not only did she work as a pediatric dietician at Jackson Memorial Hospital, but she now has her own 18-month-old son to feed (for the record, he’s a great eater). As the founder of Essence Nutrition, a group practice of seven RDs, Monica works holistically with her clients and covers eating issues related to pre-natal, post-natal, children’s, sports and gastro. She is also the dietician for the Miami Marlins and the visiting dietitian specialist at Ocean Reef Resort and Club. Monica will be back on the State of Kid schedule this fall, covering everything from meal planning and healthy food choices to caring for the caregiver (your diet matters too!). Stay tuned for her new class times and follow along @eatlikemonica.

While picky eating is not new, it seems to be more prevalent lately.

It’s really a problem of parents putting too much pressure on themselves. Parents have become obsessed with what kids are eating and where they are on the percentile chart. I remind parents that their kid isn’t going to be at the top of the chart or very tall unless they are 6’5” themselves. Failure to thrive is rarely the case. Children are really good at regulating their eating, and they know their appetite. Parents often set up power struggles at mealtimes. Toddlers, for example, are exploring their autonomy and exercising control over everything, including what they eat. Our job is to set the mealtimes and food served.

How can parents and caregivers encourage healthier eating?

Well, if kids only eat food out of pouches, they are never going to eat a salad. They won’t associate the vegetables that come out of a pouch with real vegetables. A pouch is okay occasionally, but it shouldn’t replace real fruits and vegetables. I did everything I could to have my son eat different colors and flavors as a little one. It’s harder to get a two-year-old to eat broccoli if they’ve never had it before. Of course, we can rework eating habits, but it becomes more challenging. Also, stop with the marathon snacking. If your child eats seven snacks before dinner, then of course they won’t eat dinner. And finally, provide the nourishment, but with boundaries. For example, offer a fruit snack, like pieces of pineapple. If your child says they want something else, say, “you must not be hungry if you don’t want the pineapple.”

What’s a great snack?

Don’t just offer an apple. Pair it with a protein or fat so they’re full. Well-rounded snacks include an apple with yogurt, carrots with hummus or guacamole, cheese and a pear. Pick a plant and a protein, like beans, nuts or seeds. I make popsicles with pureed fruit and yogurt. You can buy popsicle molds on Amazon. Make dirt cups with chia seeds or chocolate avocado mousse. Cut up fruits and veggies right when you get home from the grocery store, so they are ready to eat. Parents, your job is to make sure these snacks are available when you need them!

How did eating habits change during the pandemic?

When we were hunkered down at home, we were all marathon eating. It was an all-day buffet. Kids were free range chickens in the kitchen, eating all the time. We need to reestablish boundaries. There’s nap time, mealtime, bedtime. We don’t need to eat all of the time.

There’s so much to unpack here. We can’t wait for your classes to start!

Yes, I am excited too. There are three topics I will be covering, starting with Beating Picky Eating. We’ll discuss the prevention and treatment of picky eaters, what to do if a child skips a meal, how to handle bedtime snack requests and getting over food aversions. Another class will focus on meal planning and organization. What to pack kids for camp or school lunch. The good news is that we don’t have to spend a fortune at the grocery store and 14 hours cooking in order to be good meal planners. I’ll share my tips on how to avoid being overwhelmed. Speaking of being overwhelmed, there will be a class on Caring for the Caregiver. Too often, moms scavenge leftovers and haven’t eaten a full and balanced meal. It’s hard, but mom comes first. My breakfast comes first. You have to take care of yourself first, the same way you would on an airplane with the oxygen mask. You were a human before you had other humans.

Any other advice on beating picky eating?

Let them see what’s going on in the kitchen. Cook with your kids. Help them crack eggs, give them a bowl and let them mix ingredients (or Miss Nancy can help with that!). Take them grocery shopping. The more they can be involved with the meal process, the better. Most importantly, eat together as a family. It makes the child feel special and part of the eating experience.