The Best Expert Tips on Feeding Your Picky Eaters

doctor sears with a patient

It seems like today everybody is an “expert”, but in this case Skinny Mom had the pleasure of picking the brain of a true expert, pediatrician and co-host of TV’s “The Doctors,” Dr. Jim Sears. His down-to-earth personality and practical advice is what makes him one of America’s leading television doctors, but his genuine concern for his patients, and all children for that matter, is what makes him a remarkable pediatrician. In addition to being an Emmy® nominated co-host of an award winning show, and co-author or multiple books that help families navigate the often confusing world of child-raising, he has also created the Wellness Institute which is dedicated to helping families live healthier, longer lives by making positive Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude, and Nutrition (L.E.A.N) choices. For more on the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, click here.

For this reason, he is the perfect person to deliver practical and healthy eating advice that parents can put into practice today. Dr. Sears doesn’t just talk the talk either, as a father and step-father to 3 children Dr. Sears is living and breathing the same joys, trials, and tribulations all parents experience. If you have a child with healthy eating issues then you know that nothing is more “trying” than negotiating with your kids to eat healthy foods. When Skinny Mom asked Sears if he thought parents should force kids to eat healthy foods, he recommended they don’t start a fight they can't win. Oftentimes kids use eating as a means to assert their independence and if their parents fight them on it all it does is make everyone upset and the food goes uneaten. Instead, try involving kids in the shopping and cooking to help them feel invested and in control of what they eat. Sears says he oftentimes asks his kids to pick out whatever green vegetable they want from the market and once chosen it gets eaten without much argument or fanfare.

happy family grocery shopping

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high but a child doesn’t have to be clinically obese for parents to worry about healthy eating habits. In fact, the parents of overindulgers or under-eaters alike should be equally concerned about the healthy choices their children are making. Parents have the responsibility of helping children make smart choices as Dr. Sears discusses in his book The Healthiest Kid in The Neighborhood. In the chapter “Shaping Young Tastes” he explains by introducing only healthy foods to a baby when they first start eating food, they are more likely to grow up with healthy cravings. However, if for whatever reason you couldn’t do that, don’t stress! Kids have the awesome ability to learn all kinds of things during their growth and development, and a taste for healthy eating is included in that.

Even this award winning pediatrician admits that it isn’t always easy to help kids get all the fruits and veggies they need, and at one point he was concerned that his own daughter needed a little more. Thankfully there are supplements available to help. He recommends Juice Plus+ fruit and vegetable supplement. Dr. Sears reports that after weeks of taking a supplement his daughter began to actually crave real fruits and vegetables!

young girl eating vegetables

In a perfect world we would all eat balanced diets, but in reality there are soccer games, ballet lessons and birthday parties so Dr. Sears recommends creating a black and white system that easily allows kids to understand and follow the rules. For example, never keep cookies in the house but allow kids to eat them at special events that take place outside the home. This takes the guess work and the argument out of your kitchen. Sears even recommends throwing out leftover cake and cookies after a party. By eliminating these foods from the house the need to rely on willpower to keep from eating them also gets eliminated. Willpower for adults is difficult but for a child it’s not even part of their vocabulary. Having sweets in the house also tests the willpower of a parent to make smart choices on their children’s behalf. Simply put - kids can’t beg for cookies if there aren’t any cookies.

For this reason, Dr. Sears also recommends teaching children Traffic Light Eating where green means “go”, yellow tells us to “slow down”, and red means “stop” and think. He explains the traffic light system and more on his popular website

Green light foods are “grow” foods. You want to help your child learn to eat as much as they want of these foods, which include all fruits and vegetables. Green light foods are: grown and not manufactured, low in calories, high in nutrients, colorful, and usually can be eaten raw.

Yellow light foods are “slow down” foods. These foods are okay to eat every day, in moderation. Yellow light foods include: pasta, rice, bread, tortillas, noodles, eggs, lean meat, chicken, low-fat yogurt, nuts and seeds, olive oil, soy foods, whole grains, fish, low-fat cheese, and vegetable oil.

Red light foods are “stop” and think foods. When we come across a red light food, we should make a different choice or eat a smaller portion. Red light foods are low in nutrients, high in calories, fat or sugar, or contain artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, or trans-fats. They include: butter, cookies, candy, frozen yogurt, fatty meats, pastries, chips, and white bread.

By using the Traffic Light System kids will eventually be able to make smart food choices for themselves, which should always be a parent’s ultimate goal.

boy eating kabobs outside

Many parents of picky eaters get overly concerned that if they don’t feed their kids what they want, they will “starve”. On the other side of the spectrum the parents of over-eaters sometimes have a hard time preventing a child that is complaining of still being hungry from eating another portion. Dr. Sears contends that if you keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthy “grow” foods this only becomes a momentary problem. “’If you don’t buy it, they can’t eat it' is a favorite bit of advice I often give to my patients,” says Sears.

Another tactic that Sears has used with his own children when they campaign for extra servings is to have them eat more vegetables first, which can be very filling, before they can have more of what they are asking for. Also he has them wait 20 minutes. He told SM, “we know that there are signals that go from the stomach to the brain to tell it that it is full but there is a 20 minute lag.” Therefore, Sears recommends telling the child that they may have seconds but they have to wait 20 minutes first. More often than not, the child begins to feel full and the emotional need to continue eating ceases as well.


The best thing about kids is their resiliency, so even if they haven’t been eating the best diet since breast milk there is no need to panic; even Dr. Sears didn’t begin to implement these healthy eating strategies until his kids were in grade school. The important thing is to start making these changes today. If it feels overwhelming, start with one small change every few weeks and eventually all of these strategies will fall into place. Nobody ever regretted making positive, healthy lifestyle changes.

For more tips on establishing and nurturing healthy eating behavior in your children, check out 10 Mommy-Approved Methods to Encourage Healthy Eating and Kids' Nutrition: 5 Tips for Picky Eaters.