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Food coaches: An over-reliance on experts to solve picky eating

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Parents are all too familiar with the concept of 'picky eaters,' as their children turn their noses up at an assortment of veggies, fruits, and other healthy items, but news published May 6 shows that these parents may be hiring food coaches to resolve these issues. No parent wants their child to subsist on a limited diet of heavily processed foods designed for taste rather than nutrition, but is there a happy medium between giving in to the children's whims and hiring a food coach?

The article appearing in the Wall Street Journal highlighted how a food coach helped turn a mother's children from picky eaters into food-varying neophytes. However, this dramatic change came at a price, to the tune of $250 for an initial consultation plus the cost of follow-up visits. The typical expenditure for food coaches to resolve picky eating is around $400. Given that there are publicly-available and easily-accessible resources designed specifically to deal with children's picky eating, the cost of a food coach seems prohibitive and unnecessary.

The advice from the food coaches is certainly sound: mixing unfamiliar foods with familiar ones, having children help in food prep, varying food presentation, and having the child take at least one bite of the offending food item. However, the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity Research makes it one of their goals to improve childhood nutrition, often through educating parents about the best ways to introduce healthy foods with minimal resistance and maximum acceptance.

This center even has online resources, such as a handout on how to combat picky eating, suggesting many of the same tips obtained from soliciting a food coach for hundreds of dollars. And this resource is completely free. There is also an affiliated resource and webpage, called Rudd 'Roots' Parents that addresses the pressing issue of how to change the food environment children are presented with in school and childcare, which only serves to reinforce picky eating.

Why, then, are parents choosing to shell out hundreds of dollars for consultants to help their children when there are resources available within the click of a button? The primary explanation is, unfortunately, knowledge about this free information. If parents are not aware of the material, they will feel unable to tackle the issue themselves and will turn, out of frustration, to anything that promises a solution. We must impart this information with improved visibility in order to enable parents to encourage their children to eat intuitively from an early age. Food marketing for unhealthy fare is ever-prevalent, but resources to bolster healthy choices remain hidden in comparison.

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