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What to Look for in a Pediatric Nutritionist

Are you considering hiring a pediatric nutritionist to address your child’s dietary challenges? This guide will help you find a trustworthy expert.

Ready to Help Your Child Take Control of Their Health? Here's What to Look for in a Pediatric Nutritionist

Is your child struggling with their nutrition? Maybe they eat too much or too little, or they are so picky that they only eat a handful of different foods. Perhaps they are dealing with the side effects of gastrointestinal conditions or food sensitivities. Nutrition issues are relatively common among children, yet they aren't always addressed comprehensively.

If you're worried about your child's nutrition, a pediatric nutritionist can help. This type of specialist isn't the same as an athletic coach, diet provider, or general practitioner. Pediatric nutritionists are highly educated experts who focus on supporting parents and helping children build healthy habits for lifelong wellness. Read more about the services that pediatric nutritionists offer.

How a Pediatric Nutritionist Works with You and Your Child

When you hire a pediatric nutritionist, you get support for yourself and your child. A pediatric nutrition expert will take the time to ask questions and learn about the nutrition issues that your child is facing. 

They will work through various processes to identify the underlying causes of problematic eating behaviors, including chronic illnesses, GI issues, neurological disorders, food allergies, and mental health conditions.

Once they've identified the causes, they will develop a holistic plan to help you support your child's wellness. Diet is only one factor in good health. As needed, a pediatric dietitian will help your child modify their activity level, sleep, and stress management (along with healthy eating habits) to improve their overall health.

Qualities to Look for in a Pediatric Nutritionist or Dietitian

Are you thinking of hiring a pediatric nutritionist? Here are some key factors to consider.

Compatible Personality

Diet and health are sensitive subjects for most people, and they can be incredibly overwhelming for children and teens. It's crucial to choose a nutritionist with a compatible personality and approach for you and your child. 

Working with someone who rubs you the wrong way can make every session stressful. Plus, most children and teens are hesitant to take advice or suggestions from a person they don't respect. You and your child need to feel confident that your pediatric nutritionist understands your unique circumstances, needs, and goals.

Credentials

Prospective clients need to verify the credentials of a pediatric nutritionist before employing them. Frustratingly, anyone can call themself a nutritionist because the term doesn't have a legal definition. On the other hand, registered dietitians are highly educated experts who have fulfilled rigorous requirements to earn that credential. 

When you hire a registered dietitian (RD), you know that you're working with a professional with exceptional training, experience, and qualifications. Registered dietitians must earn at least a bachelor's degree and pass a standardized exam, and they need a license to practice in many states. Pediatric dietitians should be able to show additional credentials verifying their specialization.

Experience

Nutrition and dietetics are highly specialized fields that constantly evolve to incorporate new research and data. However, doing research and reading scientific textbooks aren't the only skills that make someone a good nutritionist. An effective pediatric nutritionist needs hands-on experience to take all the information they've learned and apply it to meet the unique needs of every client.

When you hire a registered dietitian nutritionist, you can be sure they already have significant experience. Candidates must log at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice before taking the RD exam.

Specialized Expertise

Because pediatric nutrition is such a specialized field, it's essential to choose an expert who has the skills to work with children and their parents. It can be a complicated relationship, especially with older children and teens. Consider choosing a pediatric nutrition specialist who can show they have lots of experience working with families.

If your child has additional health complications affecting their nutrition, such as developmental delays or physiological conditions, you may want to look for a specialist with relevant experience. For example, some pediatric nutritionists are specialists who work with infants and toddlers with feeding disorders.

Customer Service

Don't forget to consider customer service when choosing a pediatric nutritionist. Hiring an expert is a significant investment of both time and money. You don't want to worry about whether you'll see results or how long it will take to get in touch with your nutritionist when you have a question.

Choose a nutritionist who offers exceptional service. Top Nutrition Coaching will match you with a pediatric nutritionist who has the proper training and experience to address your child's unique needs. We also offer a two-week free trial and 24/7 nutritionist support with our unlimited messaging service.

Other Pediatric Professionals Who Can Help Your Child Meet Their Nutrition Goals

A pediatric nutritionist isn't the only professional who can potentially help your child improve their eating habits and overall wellness. Other specialists offer various forms of support.

Pediatrician

A pediatrician is a medical doctor who specializes in working with children. Your child's pediatrician is a good source of general advice and support for your child's nutrition. If poor eating habits affect your child's health or development, your pediatrician will want to discuss this during your child's wellness visits.

Pediatricians have extensive knowledge about children's health issues, but they don't always have as much experience in niche subjects as other specialists. For example, although your child's pediatrician is a go-to resource on illnesses and overall wellness, a pediatric nutritionist can provide in-depth information on eating habits and other aspects of nutrition.

Pediatric Medical Specialist

If other health conditions compound your child's nutrition issues, you may decide to take them to a medical specialist. For example, a gastroenterologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating GI disorders. You might take your child to see a GI specialist if they have chronic symptoms, such as diarrhea or reflux, that could indicate a severe condition like Crohn's disease. 

You might consider going to see a specialist if you think your child’s nutrition issues could be related to celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, or a neurological condition.

Eating Disorder Nutritionist

Some nutritionists specialize in helping clients who have eating disorders or related conditions. Eating disorders are complicated conditions that often require treatment to address both physical and mental factors. A nutritionist specializing in eating disorders usually has additional training in the causes and treatments of anorexia and bulimia.

Children who display signs of disordered eating can benefit from seeing a nutritionist specializing in eating disorders. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists may also be able to help with these conditions.

Watch Out for These Red Flags When Considering Pediatric Coaches, Dietitians, and Nutritionists

A simple search for "nutritionist near me" will probably give you many results, but not all nutritionists offer scientific, evidence-based advice. Watch out for these red flags that can indicate scams or unqualified individuals.

Promoting Restrictive Diets

Many nutritionists and weight loss coaches promote restrictive diets to treat conditions such as obesity and overeating. Restrictive diets include eating plans that cut out entire food groups or severely limit calories. If the nutritionist you are considering suggests a highly restrictive diet for your child without a good reason, consider looking elsewhere.

Unless there is a legitimate reason to avoid certain foods (such as an allergy), it's usually unnecessary to remove them from your diet altogether. Doing so can have serious consequences such as disordered eating, food-related anxiety, and nutrient deficits.

Assigning Morality to Food Choices

You can find plenty of "nutrition experts" whose approach to healthy eating is all about eating "good" foods and avoiding "bad" foods. However, there is no such thing as good or bad foods, and attaching judgment to food choices often leads to problems, like a child thinking they are "bad" for having a piece of cake at a birthday party.

Food is simply food. Every type of food has unique benefits and drawbacks that can help you determine which ones you want to encourage your child to eat in a given situation. Understanding the nutritional benefits of various foods is an essential skill that every child should learn – and an excellent pediatric nutritionist will help them realize that skill. 

Offering One-Size-Fits-All Plans

Another red flag to watch out for is a nutritionist who has an immediate plan for your child without taking the time to learn about their unique needs, challenges, or goals. Nutrition and wellness are highly personal, and there is no single approach or eating plan that will be right for everyone.

Look for a nutritionist who can articulate the general approach they take with their clients without relying on generic eating plans. Suppose your child has trouble trying new foods. In that case, they need a nutrition expert to identify the unique causes and develop a plan to address them, rather than dispensing a ready-made "solution" for picky eaters.

Touting Unscientific Claims

Unfortunately, many so-called nutritionists are more focused on selling supplements or other products than trying to address your child's specific needs. These people often promise results if you buy their proprietary supplement or blend. 

Another potential red flag is claiming that certain foods or products will provide results without evidence to back the claim. These practitioners also use unregulated, essentially meaningless terms such as "clean eating" or "detox." If your child's nutritionist is selling something that isn’t a widely available product with FDA approval, it's a good idea to take some time to decide whether you want to continue working with them.

Promising Quick Results

Helping your child build better eating habits won't happen overnight. In most cases, it takes at least several months to understand the factors contributing to nutrition challenges and then implement a plan to address them.

Be wary of any pediatric nutritionist who offers quick results. This includes 30-day plans and "see results in a few days" claims. You want your child to build sustainable wellness habits that they can maintain for the rest of their life. That kind of change doesn't happen immediately, so avoid working with someone who claims they can make it happen right away.

What Is the Cost Breakdown of Working with a Pediatric Nutritionist or Dietitian?

Hiring a pediatric nutritionist is an investment in your child's health that can reap lifelong rewards. Like any investment, however, there are some associated costs. Here are some of the specific expenses you may incur when taking steps to promote your child's health and wellness.

Healthy Ingredients

Unfortunately, eating a healthy diet generally costs more than subsisting on highly processed meals and convenience foods. Fresh ingredients can be costly, especially in certain parts of the country. Additionally, you must factor in associated costs such as transportation to a well-stocked supermarket and refrigerator space for perishable foods.

You also have to consider the time investment involved in buying fresh produce and other ingredients to prep and cook meals. Planning meals, finding recipes, shopping, and cooking can take a significant amount of time, especially for busy families.

Athletic Activities

Another way to promote your child's overall health is to encourage them to get regular exercise. For many children, the most enjoyable way to stay active is through sports and athletic activities. However, there are several costs associated with youth sports.

Most sports teams, even recreational ones, require participation fees. You also have to buy a uniform and other gear, which is often a yearly expense for growing children. The costs for competitive sports teams are usually higher because you need to pay for travel to tournaments and clinics.

Nutritionist Fees

Unsurprisingly, there are costs associated with hiring a pediatric nutritionist for your child. Most nutritionists charge a set rate, ranging from $100 to $300 per session, depending on your location and the nutritionist's experience and credentials. Subsequent sessions may be slightly less expensive, but you can expect to spend at least $100 per month to work with a pediatric nutritionist. 

If you decide to hire a nutritionist with additional credentials, such as a specialization in childhood diabetes management, you may pay a higher fee. A nutritionist based in private practice may be more expensive than a nutritionist who works at a children's hospital. In some instances, insurance providers may cover part of the cost of sessions with a nutritionist.

Taking steps to safeguard your child's health isn't cheap, but the alternative is often far more costly. In most cases, the costs associated with poor health – such as medical bills, medications, and childhood obesity – significantly outweigh the investment in preventative measures.

Medical bills

Poor childhood nutrition can lead to lifelong obesity, and the medical costs associated with obesity are significant. One study indicates that American adults with obesity pay approximately $2,505 more in annual medical bills than non-obese Americans. Medical costs increase at a higher rate for higher classes of obesity. The increase in medical expenses for an adult with class 1 obesity was 68.4%, whereas the increase for an adult with class 3 obesity was 233.6%.

Data shows that obesity raises the cost of medical care in every category: prescription drugs, inpatient care, and outpatient procedures. In 2016, the aggregate medical cost of adult obesity in the United States was $260.6 billion.

Medications

Children and adults who have poor nutrition can experience various medical issues and chronic conditions. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are just a few of the health conditions associated with an unhealthy diet.

Although improved diet and activity can help manage some of the symptoms of these illnesses, many people need to take medications. In the United States, prescription drugs are incredibly expensive. The Congressional Budget Office indicates that per capita spending on prescription drugs in 2018 was about $1,100, nearly 10 times higher than in 1982.

Childhood Obesity

Several studies show that the financial cost of childhood obesity is extremely high. In a 2014 study, the estimated lifetime medical cost of childhood obesity was $19,000 per individual. In 2020, researchers estimated that the annual cost of medical bills related to childhood obesity was approximately $907 per child – significantly higher than previously thought. 

Fortunately, there are significant savings associated with childhood obesity intervention measures. One study estimated that childhood obesity intervention could avert 43,000 cases over 10 years at a net savings of $4,085 per case. Investing in your child's health can yield both economic benefits and improvements in their long-term wellness and quality of life.

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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