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The Fort Drum Nutrition Clinic will host a four-part Picky Eating Course, beginning March 23, at the Army Wellness Center. (Graphic by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Fort Drum dietitians develop nutrition class
to help families conquer picky eating

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 14, 2023) – It can be the wrong color, a strange taste or texture, a funny smell or an odd shape that turns a child rebellious against certain foods.

While picky eating is common among young children, there are ways parents can change their food habits and reduce mealtime stress.

Capt. Michelle Thompson and Capt. Kimberly Whitbeck, registered dietitians with the Fort Drum Medical Department Activity Nutrition Clinic, have developed a free, four-part educational series to provide family members with proven strategies they can try at home.

“The idea for the Picky Eating course came about when we began noticing that more of our clients were coming in with concerns about their child’s eating habits, picky eating and delays in their growth that we find are related to eating,” Whitbeck said. “We wanted to create a class where we could reach a larger number of people so we can talk with them about this issue and teach them some techniques.”

Whitbeck said it is normal for children to have a distaste for some food items, just as they develop favorites.

“With picky eating, there can be a lack of desire to try new foods, and sometimes that can include a little anxiety or fear around certain foods,” she said. “A picky eater might be someone who only eats a limited number of foods.”

Whitbeck said picky eating becomes problematic when parents must make separate meals for a child, or their eating habits disrupt normal family routines.

“We want to address it before it becomes a greater issue, and that’s the whole point of this course,” she said. “We want to help family members who want to get an early start if they have really young kids, but then also help those parents who already identify their kids as being picky eaters.”

The first class, scheduled at 11 a.m. March 23, is titled “Division of Responsibility,” which covers the roles each member of the family plays before, during and after mealtimes, and how to establish routines.

The series resumes April 27 with “Reducing Mealtime Stress,” which covers techniques to encourage children to eat without pressure or fear of punishment.

In the third class on May 25, “Food Play and Interaction,” Whitbeck said they introduce simple activities where kids will use all their senses in a gradual progression to become comfortable with food.

“We often are told not to play with our food when we’re young, but it can actually help kids become more acquainted with it,” she said. “It’s all about getting kids involved, and that can be as simple as taking them to the grocery store with you just to look, see and touch different foods. Or you can give them simple things to do to help prepare the food in the kitchen, and that can help overcome the sensory aspect for many of them.”

The course concludes June 22 with “Handling Hurdles,” covering additional food topics and mealtime management skills.

“We’ll also address any concerns or topics parents want to bring to the group, and we’ll have a Q&A session with them,” Whitbeck said.

Classes are held at the Army Wellness Center, and there is no requirement to attend all four sessions. Whitbeck said that the course will be available again later this year.

“We understand that people have schedule conflicts and may not be able to attend all four classes, so they will have another chance to come back at a later time to any of the sessions they missed,” she said.  

Thompson, Fort Drum MEDDAC Nutrition Clinic chief of nutrition, said that she hopes this course will help parents better understand the picky eating process so they can find the right strategy for their family.

“Providing community nutrition classes is not simply about education, but the ability for our Fort Drum families to apply what they are learning to their lives,” she said.

“I think one measure of success from this class is if we see a decrease in the number of pediatrician appointments needed to address this issue,” Thompson added. “And then hopefully the long-term impact, when looking at children’s growth milestones, is that we’re seeing better outcomes as they grow into adolescence with better eating behaviors that are meeting their nutritional needs.”

Thompson said that they will also strive this year to draw more awareness to how they support the community. She said many people are unaware of where they can go on post for nutrition advice from subject-matter experts. While the dietitians at Guthrie Ambulatory Health Care Clinic schedule appointments with beneficiaries about their nutrition, they also serve a larger role in the Fort Drum community.

“One of the most important parts of our job is being out in the community and providing nutrition-based education,” she said. “This includes commissary tours, collaboration with other agencies on post to promote nutrition, and connecting service members and their families to food resources like WIC or the local farmer’s markets. We also support cooking classes which some of our Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) dietitians have started.”

The Fort Drum Nutrition Clinic also offers a “Weight Loss Without Dieting” class that debunks dieting myths, explains the negative health impact of restrictive eating, and teaches the fundamentals for creating a sustainable weight loss plan. After completing the class, clients will be booked for an individual hourlong session with a registered dietitian.

To learn more about the Fort Drum Nutrition Clinic classes or to register, call (315) 772-6404 or email kimberly.m.whitbeck.mil@health.mil.