The Best Way to Prevent Picky Eating

By Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND, author of What’s Eating Your Child?

A recent October 2010 study found that 40% of the calories in children’s diets come from empty calorie foods such as grain desserts, cookies and granola bars. Headlines declared the horrifying state of children’s diets but nobody seemed surprised by these findings.

What can a concerned parent do?

Avoid introducing the three C’s (crackers, cookies and cereal) or what I call toddler crack because once kids discover them they are quickly hooked. At age two, children discover the connection between action and consequences and naturally want to control what they can. Eating looks promising so they prefer self-feeding whenever possible. Utensils can be challenging so finger foods like the three C’s are prefect. Then there is the addicting taste. Face it. Jarred peas cannot compete with salty crackers or sweet cookies. David Kessler has written extensively about how food companies carefully use excessive salt and sugar to encourage people to prefer empty calorie food. (See his book, “The End of Overeating”.)

The road to poor eating starts like this: You are at the park and 2-½ year old Seth is getting cranky. Lunch was hours ago and he is hungry. Carrying around a bean burrito for such occasions is impractical so you hand him a container of dry cereal that is conveniently unspoiled despite spending a month in his diaper bag. Seth calms down immediately. He picks up the little pieces and feeds himself. In addition, he is happily occupied so you can slip him into his car seat without screaming.

Once home, you make a healthy dinner of salmon and green beans which he refuses because his tiny toddler tummy is full. Twenty minutes of coercion and three bites later, you give up only to have him tell you he is hungry right before bed. It has been a long day, so just this once, you hand him a few fish crackers that he eats happily. It is straight downhill from here. It all sounds so innocent but toddlers quickly learn to prefer snack foods. If you want to raise a child who will eat fruits, vegetables and a variety of healthy foods, DO NOT BUY CRACKERS, LITTLE COOKIES OR DRY CEREAL, period. They have little nutritional value and they will get plenty from grandma.

What to do instead? When packing snacks, think real food instead of empty calorie treats. Pack up cooked peas and carrots, bananas, grapes cut in half, ¼ of a sandwich or little pieces of cheese. In the heat of the summer you may have to throw in an ice pack. Eating pieces of fruit and vegetables require more supervision as they do not melt in the mouth like crackers and small children can choke easily. Supervising snack time is a small price to pay for better long term eating habits.

About the Author

Kelly Dorfman is the author of: What’s Eating Your Child? The hidden connections between food and childhood ailments (Workman Publishing, 2011). Visit