Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has assembled a team of doctors, psychologists, registered dietitians, exercise physiologists and other wellness experts to give you expert advice, balanced with real-life parenting experience. From newborns to teens, we can help you with your feeding and nutrition-related question.
The information contained on this website should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
I know I shouldn’t let my child eat junk, but he wears me down. How can I break the habit without losing my mind?
Repetitive asking (aka whining) is tough to take. And no food should ever be totally off limits; that’s too restrictive. Establish how often he can have his favorite treat, then stand firm and be consistent. Eventually, he’ll run out of steam and stop bothering to ask. But if you engage in battles or occasionally give in, he’ll be inspired to keep trying.
Here are some quick tips:
- Keep treats out of the house and/or out of sight. He can’t continue to ask for something you don’t have.
- Be a role model and don’t eat junk food yourself.
- If your child asks for a treat, calmly say, “We are not having cookies today. Would you like a piece of fruit, or cheese and crackers for a snack?”
Once you have said no, when your child asks again, say something like “I already answered that question” and suggest something else to do—go outside and play, help make dinner—or something to keep him busy.
Focusing on weight doesn’t help children because they’re changing, growing and/or going through puberty. If you focus on weight you’re missing what’s important: behavior. Focus instead on healthy habits. Set short-term, achievable goals with your kids and watch what happens.
Strong4Life suggests four healthy habits (but you don’t have to do all of them at once—start by working on one):
- Make half your plate veggies and fruits.
- Be active.
- Drink more water and limit sugary drinks.
- Limit screen time.
It’s also a good idea to check with your child’s doctor about his or her weight. Your doctor has your child’s growth history, and can help you set healthy habit goals.
Even though in general, 60 minutes of physical activity per day is a good rule of thumb, you don’t have to be active for an hour all at once. Even taking your kids outside for 15 minutes helps. So you don’t have to get in the car and drive to the park and stay for a whole hour. There isn’t time for that for a lot of parents, but there are 15 minutes before or after dinner. Taking a family walk is a start. Or try letting kids play outside after school for 30 minutes before they do homework. Some children actually focus better if they have that down time before homework. What’s most important is to start where you are and work your way up to that hour daily.
Your child’s body knows how much food she needs, and it’s normal for kids to eat much smaller portions than adults. Distractions like screens and toys make it harder for your child to recognize her body’s signals that it’s hungry and full, and can lead to overeating. It’s best to turn off the TV and remove toys from the table, and use mealtime as an opportunity to talk as a family.
If you think your child is hurrying through her meal to get to TV time, make it a rule that the TV does not get turned on until mealtime is over and the dishes are cleaned.
My 3-year-old is an extremely picky eater. She only likes chicken nuggets. How can I expand the variety of foods she eats?
It’s normal for kids to be suspicious of new foods. In fact, many kids need to see a new food 15–20 times before trying and liking it. Offer a variety of healthy foods for the whole family, and let her choose what to eat from what you have provided. Being a short-order cook and making chicken nuggets just for her will reinforce her picky eating habits
Meet Our Experts
Stephanie Walsh, MD
Medical Director, Child Wellness, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
With more than a dozen years of experience in promoting wellness, Medical Director of Child Wellness Stephanie Walsh, MD, is a leader in the field. A board-certified pediatrician and diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, Dr. Walsh played an instrumental role in establishing the Children’s Strong4Life movement. As a working mom with three boys, ages 16, 14 and 12, Dr. Walsh knows the real challenges of parenting, and it’s her personal mission to help Georgia families become healthier and happier. In fact, her toughest personal parenting struggle is getting her boys to eat their veggies, something she says is a daily battle.
Dr. Walsh received her Doctor of Medicine degree at the Medical College of Georgia in 2000 and completed a residency in pediatrics at Emory University in 2004.
Dr. Walsh lives in Atlanta with her husband and three sons. She enjoys running and spending time with her family.
Mark Wulkan, MD
Surgeon-In-Chief, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Surgeon-in-Chief Mark Wulkan, MD, is an expert in advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques. The exclusive surgeon for the Strong4Life Clinic, he introduced pediatric bariatric surgery to the clinic in 2004. Seeing children’s lives arrested by obesity and working with patients who have turned to bariatric surgeries, like gastric bypass surgery, inspired Dr. Wulkan to play an active part in bringing more specialized support to kids and their families at Children’s Strong4Life Clinic. A parent to three kids, ages 17, 14 and 11, Dr. Wulkan is a huge proponent of role modeling healthy habits beginning early in life. He says his biggest parenting challenge is finding time to eat together as a family.
Dr. Wulkan has been repeatedly recognized by Atlanta Magazine in its annual “Top Doctors” issue. He completed his residency in general surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital Medical Center at the University of Miami in 1994 and graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in 1989 with summa cum laude honors. He also completed a fellowship in pediatric surgical critical care at the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital in 1995 and a research fellowship at the University of Alabama and The Children’s Hospital of Alabama in 1996, where he completed an additional residency in pediatric surgery in 1998.
He lives in Atlanta with his wife and children. An avid running enthusiast, Dr. Wulkan belongs to a running group made up of his colleagues on the medical staff here at Children’s.
Sheethal Reddy, PhD
Psychologist, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Sheethal Reddy, PhD, joined the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team in 2011 as the clinical psychologist at the Strong4Life Clinic. Dr. Reddy helps patients and families make small but meaningful changes in their daily lives to improve their health and well-being. An expert in weight management, Dr. Reddy is a great source of advice on how to raise kids who feel good about their bodies at any size.
As the mom of a 2-year-old boy, Dr. Reddy says that her biggest challenge is keeping her son entertained while she and her husband make dinner during the workweek.
She earned a PhD in clinical psychology in 2009 from Kent State University. An undergraduate alumna of the University of Florida (Go Gators!), she received a Bachelor of Science in psychology in 2002.
Dr. Reddy completed a postdoctoral fellowship in child and adolescent psychology at Emory University in 2012 and a predoctoral internship in obesity and behavioral medicine at Duke University Medical Center in 2009.
When she is not working, Dr. Reddy enjoys reading, cooking and spending time outdoors.
Wendy Palmer, MS, RDN, LD, CHES
Registered Dietitian, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Wendy Palmer has been a member of the Strong4Life team since 2011. As a registered dietitian and manager of child wellness, Wendy has been instrumental in the development of many of Strong4Life’s initiatives aiming to impact child wellness in Georgia.
As a mom to Caden (age 7) and Kellen (age 5), Wendy’s biggest parenting challenge is that her youngest son is a carbohydrate addict. He prefers bread, cereal, crackers, waffles, pancakes—you name it! Even though her oldest son eats veggies and fruits happily, it’s a daily battle to get Kellen to eat his veggies.
She received a Master of Science in health care policy and management and completed a dietetic internship at Stony Brook University in 2005. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Ithaca College in community health education in 2003.
Wendy lives in Dacula, Georgia, with her husband, two sons and three dogs. When she is not working, she enjoys running, cooking and spending time being active with her kids.
Katherine Shary, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Katherine Shary is a registered dietitian with Strong4Life where she coordinates our motivational interviewing provider training programs and has helped develop our children’s books. Before coming to Children’s, Katherine worked with clients in the outpatient clinical nutrition setting for many years covering multiple disease states. She also has experience working with home bound tube fed patients.
Katherine earned her bachelors of science in dietetics at The University of Akron.
She lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and dog, and is excitedly awaiting the arrival of her first child in the spring. She loves to stay active and recently completed her second triathlon. She enjoys working with distance athletes and sports nutrition to fuel for optional performance. When not working she can be found woodworking with her husband or testing out new recipes in her kitchen.