Ask the Nutritionist

Scaffolding for Your Picky Eater

This is a guest post written by Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, CEDRD.

Do you have a picky eater? As a parent, this can bring up frustration, worry and even anger at times. Understanding about parenting styles and childhood development can help us have the tools to assist our child in expanding what they eat.

Picky eater

Authoritarian vs. Permission Parenting Styles

We know being authoritarian with feeding, telling a child they have to eat certain foods, doesn’t help children expand their variety, and often backfires. An example of this is telling a child that they “must clean their plate.” The opposite of an authoritarian feeding style, as described by Ellyn Satter, is a permissive one. A permissive feeding style may be short order cooking or allowing a child to eat anytime, anywhere. It’s common, when a parent is concerned about their child’s eating, that they go back and forth between these two approaches. Although it’s a natural reaction to being worried about a child’s eating, engaging in these two feeding styles doesn’t support the child in progressing in their eating. The middle ground is authoritative parenting style. In feeding, this is providing structure for meals and snacks for a child.

Childhood Development Theory

So much of nutrition and feeding advice is not based in the theories and understanding of childhood development. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is one of many childhood development theories. The Zone of Proximal Development is defined to be the “distance between the most difficult task a child can do alone and the most difficult task the child can do with help.” Children can learn on the outer edge of their Zone of Proximal Development with “scaffolding” or assistance from teachers, peers or parents.

As parents, it’s important to provide the structure, or “scaffolding,” so that the child can expand their eating skills.

Structure or “Scaffolding” for Your Picky Eater

Here are some examples of how a parent can provide structure or “scaffolding” with food:

scaffolding for picky eaters
  • Establish times of meals and snacks so that the child arrives at meal and snack times hungry, but not starving.

  • Decide what is offered at meals and snacks, and not short order cooking.

  • Offer avenues to try new foods – a familiar sauce or dip for the child to have with a less familiar food.

  • Provide a child an opportunity to explore a food in different ways. This may include smelling it, licking it, kissing it, rubbing it on their lips and allowing them to spit it out, if they choose. If this isn’t accepted meal time behavior, you could experiment at a non-eating time.

  • Decrease anxiety at meal time by allowing a child to serve their own plate and having a familiar food on the table.

  • Serve combination meals, like a taco bowl or salad, “deconstructed” so that the child can try the meal with the ingredients of their choosing.

  • Not always serving the item “made to order.” For example, a child may prefer cheese quesadillas, but one night you may decide to put black beans or some chicken in everyone’s quesadilla. Or making a pizza for the whole family and having the child “pick off” what they choose not to eat.

  • When out to eat, ask a child to pick something unique to that restaurant, rather than defaulting to the kids menu of acceptable foods. For example, picking a Asian dish at a Asian restaurant, rather than mac ‘n cheese.

  • Ask a child to help you prepare an unfamiliar food.

  • Prepare an unfamiliar food in a familiar way. For example, serve breaded fish sticks, as a bridge to eating fish in other ways.

  • Eating well is like any other developmental task. Children will approach it in their own way, and as parents it’s our job to support them in making small steps forward. We can’t make them eat a variety of food, but we can provide them with support and assist them in making progress towards eating competence.

-Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, CEDRD

Anna Lutz is a mom of 3 and a Registered Dietitian with Lutz, Alexander & Assoc. Nutrition Therapy in Raleigh, NC. She specializes in eating disorders and pediatric/family nutrition. Anna received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Duke University and Master of Public Health in Nutrition from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD). Anna is a national speaker and delivers workshops and presentations on eating disorders and childhood feeding. She is passionate about helping parents avoid the food battle and raise kids to feel good about food and their bodies. She writes about simple cooking, nutrition and family feeding at Sunny Side Up Nutrition.

FB: @lutzandalexander and @sunnysideupnutritionists

IG: @annalutzrd and @sunnysideupnutritionists

Twitter: @AnnaLutzRD and @sunnysideupnutr

Top 5 Tips to Help Your Picky Eater

This is a guest post written by Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, CEDRD.

“How can I help my picky eater?” This is the number 1 question that I hear from parents. It can feel like everywhere we look people are telling us how our children should eat. There’s not one way to feed a child. As parents, we can provide children with experiences and structure to help them learn and grow in their eating. However, we can’t make our children be adventurous eaters.

We are all different and, therefore, eat differently.

Tips to help picky eater

Some children may approach new situations and food with excitement and curiosity. Other children, may be a bit more cautious and new situations, including food, may be a bit more challenging. Just like anything in parenting, it’s important to support our children for who they are. As parents, it’s important set up a structure for our children so that they can progress in their eating over time, just like we’d help a child learn to go to bed on their own or take responsibility for their homework. If we’re too permissive, children don’t learn how to do things on their own and if we are too forceful or authoritarian, children may not learn sustainable skills outside of being forced. There are things we can do, as parents and caregivers, to help our children grow up to eat a variety of foods.

5 Tips to Help Your Picky Eater:

1. Eliminate pressure: Research shows that pressure doesn't help children accept new foods. It may “work” at a particular meal, but it doesn’t help them readily accept food over time. What is pressure? Pressure can be telling a child they have to eat a certain amount, cheering for a child when they eat certain foods, or telling a child they have to eat an item in order to eat another food item. Pressure for one child may not feel like pressure to another. Being neutral about food choices is the best bet to support a child in making progress.

2. Have “food amnesia:” One of the biggest changes I encourage parents to make is to keep offering foods to their child, even and especially, if you know they won’t eat it. Have “amnesia” about what they ate or didn’t eat the last time you served the particular foods. So often, concern about a child not eating enough food or a particular type of food, can lead to catering to these preferences. For example, if a child eats broccoli, but not carrots, a parent may not make carrots and only offer broccoli so the child “gets in her vegetables.” The problem with this is that the child will never learn to eat carrots if she isn’t offered them. You may need to offer the carrots for years before your child eats them, but she will never eat them if they aren’t offered.


3. Offer an easily accepted food at meals: I encourage parents to decide what is offered at meals and snacks and to not cater to only the preferences of the child. However, for many children, seeing one food on the table that they already accept, can decrease anxiety and worry at that meal. If you include a readily accepted food item at a meal, a child will know they can “make do” with the food there. This can help a more sensitive child to know they can try the more challenging foods if they want to, but there’s not the pressure that they must eat the challenging food or, if they don’t, they will not eat anything.

4. Serve meals family style: Serving meals family style is a great way for a child to have autonomy. They can decide if and how much they put on their own plate. This is a great way to reduce pressure at the dinner table. This can feel like a lot of work, but I encourage parents to put pots and pans right on the table if that makes it more doable. Parents can serve from the pot at the table and ask each family member if they want some of the food item on their plate and how much.

5. Get kids cooking: Exposing kids to foods in different ways helps children try new foods. When we get kids in the kitchen they are exposed to food in different forms and are more likely to try the food when they sit down to eat. Kids can help measure or mix ingredients. An older child can chop or cook foods on the stove top. Check out this post by Elizabeth Davenport about kids cooking at Sunny Side Up Nutrition.

My hope is these tips will be support for you! Establishing structure that is not too permissive or too authoritarian can help children expand their eating skills. Try not to win the battle at a particular meal, but rather think about supporting your child to learn to eat and expand his variety over several years.

Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, CEDRD

Anna Lutz is a mom of 3 and a Registered Dietitian with Lutz, Alexander & Assoc. Nutrition Therapy in Raleigh, NC. She specializes in eating disorders and pediatric/family nutrition. Anna received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Duke University and Master of Public Health in Nutrition from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD). Anna is a national speaker and delivers workshops and presentations on eating disorders and childhood feeding. She is passionate about helping parents avoid the food battle and raise kids to feel good about food and their bodies. She writes about simple cooking, nutrition and family feeding at Sunny Side Up Nutrition.

FB: @lutzandalexander and @sunnysideupnutritionists

IG: @annalutzrd and @sunnysideupnutritionists

Twitter: @AnnaLutzRD and @sunnysideupnutr

Sous Chef Junior

Do your kids love watching “Top Chef Junior”? Put them to work in the kitchen. Here’s Mom Made’s list of recommended kitchen tasks by age.

If you love quality food as much as we do here at Mom Made, it only makes sense to get the kiddos involved in the kitchen! We believe in starting kids while they're young. It's genuine quality time while being productive in the kitchen. 

We encourage you to challenge your children to help with more than dessert. The more involved they are from a young age, the more they will learn to appreciate the joy of cooking and the link to healthy eating. 

Keep in mind - you know your kids way better than we do! Feel free to follow these age guidelines as you feel necessary. 

3-4 Years Old

  • Use cookie cutters

  • Rinse produce

  • Juice citrus fruit

  • Tear lettuce

  • Chop herbs (with much supervision if ready)

  • Cup soft fruits and vegetables (with much supervision if ready)

5-7 Years Old

  • Crack eggs

  • Form patties and meatballs

  • De-seed peppers (be sure to use gloves for hot peppers!)

  • Chop vegetables

  • Grease pans

  • Garnish dishes

  • Pour sauce

  • Use measuring spoons and cups

  • Shuck corn

  • Use microwave

  • Peel vegetables

8-10 Years Old

  • Use stove (to prepare eggs and other simple meals)

  • Use pizza cutter

  • Open can with can opener

  • Beat eggs

  • Pound chicken

  • Skewer food

  • Slice bread

10-12 Years Old

  • Boil pasta

  • Search for and follow simple recipes

  • Use oven

  • Use chef's knife

  • Simmer ingredients on stove-top

  • Make dressings

  • Cook a full meal!

If you're super confident in your new sous chef, give them the responsibility to plan and cook a full meal! You can relax in the living room, and enjoy having dinner made for you for a change. Regardless how involved your child was in their cooking responsibilities, they will come to the table proud of their participation and ready to try their creation.

Bon appetit!


Ask the Nutritionist: Help! My Son Won't Eat Veggies!

My 7 year old son eats NO veggies, and hasn't since he threw up all his peas and his dinner in Kindergarten. I tried smoothies, raw carrots and edamame, which he refused and then puked up. It's all drama and a gag reflex, and incredibly hard not to be so mad, yell, etc. I obviously did something wrong when he was little, and now I am stuck. Any book suggestions, or advice would be much appreciated : ) Thank you!

I *totally* know what you mean! When my daughter was around 6 or 7 months old, a well-meaning babysitter gave her spoonful after spoonful of avocado (one of the few solid foods I had introduced to her at that time) until she threw them up. For a long time, she wouldn’t touch avocados. But she did eat other vegetables and fruits and generally had a balanced diet so I didn’t push it.

My best advice to you is: relax. What your son is doing is totally normal for kids his age. It doesn’t sound as though he has any swallowing problems, since you’ve introduced all kinds of tastes and textures, and it’s only vegetables he’s refusing. If you really want to be sure you can ask your MD for a referral to a therapist specializing in swallowing issues. What you have here is a classic case of a power struggle. The more you pressure, the more he will rebel, and the more he rebels the more frustrated you get…and the result is an out-of-control spiral.

Here’s how to get you and your family back on track: know your roles. According to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibilities (, it is a parent’s job to provide what, when and where to eat. It is the child’s job to decide how much and – yes – whether to eat.  That is all. As a parent, don’t pressure, cajole, beg, barter or fight. Don’t give in to demands to fix something else just so he’ll eat something, nor give a snack later when he might be hungry after forgoing a meal. Calmly serve a plate, keep your eyes on your own plate, and when dinner is over, clear the plates.

Easier said than done, I know. But bite your tongue, stay strong, and trust that he will go back to exploring and perhaps accepting vegetables as part of his diet. According to experts, it takes anywhere from 8-20 exposures to a food before a person accepts it (notice that I didn’t say “like” it – but rather tries it and makes a firm decision about whether the food is something they will eat or something they truly do not like). Other tips that help increase acceptance of a food:

  • Serve the same food in different ways. Perhaps he hates raw baby carrots but likes cooked round carrot slices, or julienned carrots in salads.
  • Serve it with something he likes. Maybe mashed potatoes aren’t so bad when they’re on a plate next to slices of lean flank steak.
  • Be liberal with toppings, sauces and sides. Broccoli alone may be “meh” to your son, but topped with melted 2% cheddar cheese or dipped in ranch dressing – yeah!
  • Be a role model yourself. All of your efforts may be thwarted if your spouse or another person your son looks up to refuses to eat his or her vegetables – or worse – badmouths vegetables and calls them “yucky.”

I personally am opposed to “hiding” vegetables in foods, since it only reinforces the notion that vegetables need to be endured and not enjoyed. But if you’re really concerned about the quality of your child’s diet, and if he isn’t getting adequate vitamins and fiber from fruits or other healthy foods, then incorporating vegetables into cooked foods is an OK option. One of the reasons I like Mom Made Foods is that while the veggies are baked into the munchies and sides, you can also see the individual veggies (the peas in the Cheesy Mac) and taste the distinct flavors (like celery in the Turkey Meatballs).

For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing all the right things by being so concerned about your son’s health and nutrition!

If you have a question for our nutritionist, please contact us. 

Ask The Nutritionist: How Much Protein?

How much dairy do toddlers really need? And is meat protein really more efficient than vegetarian protein?

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese provide essential nutrients that a growing child needs, including bone-building calcium and high-quality protein. Fluid milk is also an excellent source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium - not to mention a bunch of other health benefits that are still being discovered! (Yogurt and cheese typically don't provide much if any vitamin D, FYI). Toddlers need about 2 cups (16 fl oz) of milk/dairy per day. Now, that doesn't mean 16 ounces of cheese! For USDA recommended "cup equivalents" of dairy products, click here. Between ages 1-2, dairy should be full-fat (or whole milk), since the milkfat is needed for growth and brain development. After the child's second birthday, it's a generally a good idea to switch to lowfat (1%) or nonfat milk.

Regarding protein, meat (or animal-sourced) protein is a more "complete" protein compared to proteins found in vegetables. However, with the right mix of plant proteins, you can still get the "complete" package that you might get from an animal product. For example, eating beans and rice together gives you all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) for a "complete" protein. Also, don't forget that milk comes from an animal - a cow - so it, too, is a "complete" protein.

Our pediatrician said our daughter needed vegetarian protein in every meal to match meat protein given 3xs/wk. Is that right?

Let me start with the caveat that my comments here are not meant to be medical advice nor displace recommendations or treatments from your personal health care provider. With that aside, I guess I'm not quite understanding the issue. Yes, protein should comprise a portion (about one-quarter) of each meal, but there's no nutritional reason to limit meat as a protein source to 3x/week. In fact, lean meats are a great source not only of protein but of heme iron, or the type of iron that's best absorbed by the body. That said, there are some great vegetarian proteins that are also a good source of iron, such as beans, lentils, spinach, dried fruit, almonds, and iron-fortified cereal. For non-vegan vegetarians, egg yolks are also a great source of iron. Tip: vitamin C helps aid in iron absorption, so if you're taking an iron supplement or eating a plant source of iron such as beans, take it with a cup of orange juice or some strawberries.

If you have a question for our nutritionist, please contact us.

Ask the Nutritionist: Is it Unhealthy for My Son to Eat Eggs Every Day?

Organic brown eggs

“My 9 year old son likes to eat the exact same breakfast every day: scrambled eggs with cheese rolled in a tortilla. Some weeks he’s been eating 10+ eggs! Should we be worried about the cholesterol in all those eggs? My son is very active, tall for his age and in the 60th percentile for weight. Thanks! Dad of 3 boys, Arlington, VA.”

The poor egg! Eggs have had some bad PR over the past several years because of how much cholesterol they contain. However, the cholesterol you eat doesn't have as much an effect on your cholesterol in your blood - for that, you really ought to limit saturated fat. So, I'd be less concerned about the eggs than I would the cheese in his tortilla (though cheese does provide calcium that growing kids need as well). Eggs are a terrific source of high-quality protein, and also provide beneficial vitamins and nutrients that kids especially need, such as vitamin D, choline and selenium. And, they have very low levels of fat, including saturated fat. In fact, several research studies indicate that a diet including 1-2 eggs per day doesn't have a major impact on heart disease risk. As long as the rest of his daily diet is varied, includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, I wouldn't worry about his current breakfast of choice.

Do you have a question?  Please send an email to  and I’ll answer it soon.