Picky Eating and Nutrition in Children

By Henry (Hank) Bernstein, D.O.
Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School


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Henry (Hank) Bernstein, D.O. is a Senior Lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. Formerly the Associate Chief of General Pediatrics and Director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston, he currently is the Chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth. He has extensive and varied experience as a primary care pediatrician, and is a spokesperson for the news media on a variety of pediatric health care topics, including vaccination, common childhood illnesses, and practical information for caregivers.

My 3-year-old son is a very picky eater. His menu consists of pizza, chicken nuggets, soup, waffles, macaroni and cheese and chocolate milk. His doctor says this is normal but I'm starting to worry that he is not getting the proper nutrition. Should I take him to a nutritionist?


It does not sound like there is a need to see a nutritionist. Picky eating is very common in young children.

Children ages 3 and 4 tend to choose more energy-rich foods because they are very energetic. It makes sense that they need to eat more than when they were babies.

Your son is no different. His menu covers the important food groups well:

  • Carbohydrates, like bread and pasta

  • Good fats, like milk

  • Proteins, like meat and egg whites

It is best to prepare meals at home. Homemade pizzas could be topped with vegetables like tomato, mushroom, and green pepper, along with his favorite cheese and meats. Vegetables could also be included in homemade soups.

You can try whole wheat flour, which is a very good source of fiber. Chocolate milk and macaroni and cheese are very good sources of calcium for growth, too.

Stay away from frozen chicken nuggets and fast-food chicken nuggets. These are not a healthy choice for children, especially if your son eats them everyday.

Try to encourage him to eat more fresh fruit. Apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries make the perfect snack. Find one or two fruits he likes.

It often helps to get your toddler or pre-schooler involved with grocery shopping and making meals. Show your child different types of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, at the grocery store. Point out their shapes and colors.

Lastly, you may find that one day your son eats more than you expect. Then the next day he seems to eat next to nothing. Do not count calories. He has a good sense of his own energy needs. He will eat enough to keep himself healthy and active.

Your job is simply to provide a variety of nutritious food choices. Almost all children learn to be less picky as they get older.

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