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What Is a Pediatric Nutritionist

A pediatric nutritionist helps children develop healthy eating and wellness habits. Discover the many benefits of working with a pediatric nutritionist.
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What Is a Pediatric Nutritionist?

If your child has nutritional challenges such as picky eating, gastrointestinal issues, or food sensitivities, a pediatric nutritionist can help. These specialists are nutrition experts who assist children of all ages in developing better eating habits. 

Good nutrition is essential to overall health. Without adequate nutrients, children can experience developmental problems, mental health issues, and various physical symptoms. Parents often struggle to identify the underlying causes of picky eating or gastrointestinal conditions, whereas nutritionists have the expertise to diagnose and treat a range of nutrition issues. 

A pediatric nutrition specialist can identify food allergies and sensitivities and create a nutritionally complete eating plan that avoids problematic foods. Nutritionists can also help clients manage various nutrition-related health conditions, such as eating disorders and diabetes. 

Parents also stand to benefit from working with a pediatric nutritionist. These specialists can equip parents with vital information and tools to support their child's long-term health and wellness. 

Pediatric Nutritionists Help Children Live Healthier Lives

A pediatric nutritionist doesn't just provide a generic list of healthy foods and suggestions for daily exercise. A pediatric nutritionist will take the time to truly understand your child and the factors contributing to their nutrition difficulties, such as stress, medical conditions, activity level, and outside influences. They will build a customized plan to address these unique issues, giving you and your child a strategy for sustained success. 

Leading a healthy lifestyle is about more than just making good food choices. It's about helping your child build lifelong wellness habits. This means thinking about the nutritional aspects of food, such as vitamins and protein, instead of just counting calories. It also means understanding the relationship between diet and other parts of life, such as sleep, stress, and activity level. A nutritionist can work with you and your child to develop positive routines in all of these areas.

Childhood habits often become solidified during adolescence. Working with a pediatric nutritionist can give your child the right outlook and information about living a healthy lifestyle, shielding them from harmful behaviors that often crop up during the teenage years, such as disordered eating and substance abuse. When children have a solid understanding of the factors contributing to their health and wellness, they are more likely to stick to good habits and avoid damaging behaviors like crash diets.

While a pediatric nutritionist can help address your child's nutritional issues, they offer much more than that. You'll gain an ally and an expert you can turn to with questions and concerns about your child's wellbeing. Together, you and your nutritionist can set your child up for a lifetime of good health.

What Does a Pediatric Nutritionist Do?

A pediatric nutritionist provides many different services to children and their parents. Many parents decide to seek out a specialist because their children lack a healthy, balanced diet. There are several possible reasons for this: pickiness, disordered eating, allergies, and neurological disorders. A pediatric nutritionist can help with all of these areas. 

A nutritionist can help parents identify the underlying causes of these behaviors, such as undiagnosed food sensitivities or mental health challenges. Once the cause is known, the nutritionist will support the child and their family by creating a nutritionally balanced, easy-to-follow nutrition plan.

Pediatric nutritionists are experts in childhood health and wellness. They provide parents with more than just generic eating plans and information on a balanced diet. Instead, they consider the unique factors affecting each client (e.g., food sensitivities, activity level, sleep, and stress) and build a holistic plan to improve overall health. 

What Is the Difference Between a Pediatric Nutritionist and a Pediatric Dietitian?

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a pediatric nutritionist isn't necessarily the same thing as a pediatric dietitian. In fact, the term "nutritionist" isn't regulated, so anyone can claim to be a nutritionist, even with minimal education or experience. However, the term "dietitian" refers to someone who has completed the rigorous requirements to earn a registered dietitian (RD) credential. 

Becoming an RD involves earning at least a bachelor's degree and completing hundreds of work experience hours under the supervision of an experienced dietitian. Candidates must also pass a standardized exam and register with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. In some U.S. states, registered dietitians must obtain a license to practice.

A pediatric dietitian is an RD who has completed additional training to specialize in dietetics for children. A pediatric nutritionist may be a registered dietitian, but they might not be (since there's no standardized requirement to use the term "nutritionist"). All registered pediatric dietitians are pediatric nutritionists, but not all pediatric nutritionists are registered dietitians.

What Are the Credentials of a Pediatric Nutritionist?

Not all pediatric nutritionists have the same qualifications. But every expert in our network is a registered dietitian with exceptional credentials, so you can trust their expertise.

Degree

To become a registered dietitian, a candidate must earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, such as nutrition or dietetics. The degree program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Candidates must complete their degree before taking the RD exam, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

Beginning in January 2024, the minimum degree requirement will change. After that time, candidates must earn a graduate degree through an accredited program to be eligible to take the CDR exam.

Work Experience

Candidates must complete the work experience requirement before taking the CDR exam. There are several ways to fulfill the experience requirement, such as a dietetic internship or an individualized, supervised practice pathway. No matter which program a candidate chooses, they must log as least 1,200 hours under the supervision of a registered dietitian.

Board Certification

Once a candidate fulfills the work and education requirements, they are eligible to take the CDR exam. After passing the exam, candidates earn their registered dietitian credential and can register with the CDR.

Licensure

Some states require registered dietitians to obtain a license to practice. The licensing process may require additional work experience or another exam. Other states simply require RDs to maintain their registration with the CDR. 

What Are the Benefits of Working With a Pediatric Nutritionist?

Wondering whether you should hire a pediatric nutritionist for your family? Here are some of the advantages of working with one.

Personalized solutions

You can find countless "solutions" to your child's nutrition problems online. However, these answers are usually generic weight management programs that don't consider your child's specific circumstances. Trying to implement a one-size-fits-all plan can end up causing more harm than good. By contrast, a pediatric nutritionist will design an effective nutrition strategy customized to your child's unique needs.

Encouragement and support

Confronting a child's nutrition issues can be incredibly challenging and stressful for parents. This is especially true if your child's eating problems are related to other conditions, such as a chronic illness or a genetic disorder. Attempting to research and implement the right approach for your child can be truly overwhelming.

By working with a pediatric nutritionist, you'll lower your own stress level and your child's. You'll have an expert on your side who has the in-depth knowledge and real-world experience to develop a realistic and effective plan for your child. You'll get endless support and the tools you need to help your child make positive changes.

Comprehensive plans

Most "diet plans" on the internet or in magazines focus entirely on what to eat and what not to eat. And although eating habits are a big piece of the nutrition puzzle, they certainly aren't the only factor in overall wellness.

A pediatric nutritionist will develop a comprehensive plan to address your child's nutrition challenges. It will include details on nutritious food choices and factors such as stress management and sleep. This holistic approach will help your child build healthy habits that will last them their entire life.

To find a pediatric nutritionist in your local area, start with an online search for "pediatric nutritionist near me." 

Am I a Good Candidate to Work With a Pediatric Nutritionist?

Could your child benefit from working with a pediatric nutritionist? Here are some examples of situations where a specialist could help.

Your child's doctor is concerned about their weight or development

If your child is overweight, it can put them at a higher risk for diabetes, joint problems, and other health issues. It's essential to find a way to help your child return to a healthy weight, but this is often challenging. Taking the wrong approach, especially with an older child or teen, can have severe mental health consequences and might lead to disordered eating and body image issues. 

A pediatric nutritionist will help you see the bigger picture of what's contributing to your child's weight gain, including sleep, stress levels, and daily routine. They will develop a comprehensive plan that addresses these issues and guide your child to healthy weight management habits.

On the other hand, children with poor eating habits may struggle with being underweight, affecting their development and resulting in other health consequences. A pediatric nutritionist can also help identify and address the underlying causes in these situations.

Your child has chronic GI issues

Does your child often experience bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or gas? While most people, including children, deal with these unpleasant conditions from time to time, frequent occurrences could indicate a gastrointestinal issue. Some common GI issues that can cause these symptoms are Crohn's disease, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Other possible causes are food allergies or sensitivities.

If your child frequently experiences these symptoms, you may be working with their doctor or a specialist already to figure out the cause. Sometimes, medical tests and bloodwork can't identify food sensitivities or allergies, but a nutritionist can use other methods to find problematic foods. 

Bringing in a pediatric nutritionist can be highly beneficial, especially if you are stressed and unsure about managing your child's symptoms. Pediatric nutritionists are experts in GI issues and their connection with eating and wellness. You can rely on a nutritionist to help you figure out which foods are causing problems. They'll also develop a balanced dietary strategy that accommodates your child's specific needs.

You have trouble getting your child to eat more than a handful of foods

To a certain extent, most children are somewhat picky eaters who prefer to avoid strong-flavored foods such as vegetables. However, some children take that pickiness to an extreme level and consume a limited diet. Often, the only foods they will eat are processed snacks or sugary treats. 

This type of behavior can be extremely frustrating and stressful for parents. They worry that their child isn't getting enough nutrients, but they can't force them to eat vegetables or other nutritious foods. Many parents eventually accept their child's limited diet because they don't know what else to do.

A pediatric nutritionist can be an invaluable asset in this type of situation. They can help parents understand the underlying causes of picky eating. Then, they can assist with introducing new foods in a stress-free way and create an eating plan that offers maximum nutrition without causing undue anxiety and arguments.

Still not sure? Read more about what a pediatric nutritionist does here.

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About the author

Mariel Miranda
Mariel is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lends her talents to creating valuable content that enriches communities, strengthens cultures, and moves people to change. With over ten years of writing experience and as an advocate for physiological well-being, her breadth of work extends from parenting podcasts to health and wellness pieces.

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Hire The Right Nutritionist For You