Get Your Picky Eater to Eat Breakfast

Do your kids jump-start their day with a heaping helping of carbs followed by a dose of high fructose corn syrup? Do they refuse cereal that isn't sugar coated? Or do they skip breakfast all together feeling too rushed or tired to send anything down the hatch? If their morning routine has you concerned, read on for insight and advice to get your picky eaters heading for healthy food before darting out the door.

The importance of a nutritious breakfast can't be overstated. American Dietetic Association spokesperson Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, LD explains why. "The body has likely gone several hours since its last meal and the brain needs nutrients to start functioning again," Tanner-Blasiar says. "People who skip breakfast often get headaches and have trouble focusing." Not optimum conditions for learning.

That's why eating something—even something "unhealthy"—is preferable to eating nothing at all, says Courtney Gravenese, MS, RD. "Don't worry if your child gags at typical breakfast foods," the expert says. Broccoli for breakfast? If the shoe fits, eat it. "A turkey sandwich and fruit, a slice of pizza or even a spoonful of peanut butter are all good options."

Why So Picky?

As a former member of the "picky eaters club" herself, Tanner-Blasiar knows there can be legitimate reasons kids are choosy. "In my pediatric work I see picky eaters who aren't just ornery kids. Many times a food allergy or sensitivity can be the culprit," says the new mother of twins who remembers going out for ice cream when she was young but always ordering a slushie. "We didn't know it back then but I was lactose intolerant."

The expert advises parents to look for patterns in the foods their kids like. "It may be the way a food is prepared or smells that is objectionable, not the food itself," says the dietitian using peas as an example. "The canned peas served in the school cafeteria were gross to me as a kid but I gobbled up the frozen ones mom gave us at home. Likewise with orange juice. Most kids don't like the kind with pulp in it." Textures can be problematic, too, Tanner-Blasiar says. "Lots of children consider roast beef stringy and don't like dealing with it. Chicken and ham are much easier to chew."

Breakfast Brain Food

Regardless of the reasons, Tanner-Blasiar believes pickiness lessens with age and encourages parents to expose their children to a variety of foods. "Research shows it takes 15 to 20 attempts to get a kid to start liking a new food item."

In the meantime, try these ideas from the nutrition experts at the United States Department of Agriculture/Children's Nutrition Research Center: (Serve each with a glass of lowfat milk or 100 percent fruit juice.)

  • A fruit smoothie made with yogurt and fresh or canned fruit—whip them together in a blender
  • Add lowfat granola cereal as a topping for lowfat yogurt
  • A lowfat, whole grain waffle with sliced fruit instead of syrup
  • Peanut butter rolled inside a tortilla can be a delicious alternative to toast and butter
  • Cheese and crackers or melted cheese on whole-grain toast
  • Reduced-fat or turkey sausage
  • A whole-wheat pita with a sliced, hard-cooked egg and low-fat shredded cheese
  • Almond butter on a whole-grain toasted bagel topped with apple or banana slices.
  • Lean ham and low-fat Swiss cheese on a toasted whole-grain muffin

Love them or hate them breakfast cereals-even the sugary ones-are generally fortified with vitamins and minerals. "Vitamin D and calcium are particularly important for children whose bones are growing. Add some milk-skim is best but fortified soy milk works, too-and you've got calcium and vitamin D covered," Gravenese explains.

Tanner-Blasiar doesn't mind sweetened breakfast cereal either as long as it's eaten occasionally or mixed with a healthier choice. "It's not going to ruin your child's health. Try it as an after-school snack Served with milk, it's a much healthier option than cookies."

For more ideas visit, the website of the American Dietetic Association.

Interview with Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian and Study Coordinator TRIGR Study
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
American Dietetic Association Spokesperson

Interview with Courtney Gravenese Williams, MS, RD

American Dietetic Association

United States Department of Agriculture