Family-friendly Feeding Tips

The key is structure. Sit-down meals and sit-down snacks between meals are essential for taking care of yourself and other family members. Beyond that, follow the division of responsibility. Concentrate on feeding and let your child be in charge of his eating. Avoid pressue in all ways. Keep in mind that family friendly feeding is "working," not when you child eats everything you put before him, but when he enjoys family meals, behaves well there, and can cheerully pick and choose from the food you make available. 

Have food you enjoy.

The cook has privileges. For you to keep up the day-in-day-out commitment to family meals, the food has to be rewarding for you to plan, prepare and eat.

Have meals be be your idea

Eat with your child, don't just feed him. Have pleasant meals, and teach your child to behave well at mealtime. When your child feels good and behaves well around food, sooner or later he will learn to eat almost everything you eat. 

Be considerate without catering.

Don't try to please every eater with every food at every meal. Settle for providing each eater with one or two foods they generally enjoy at each meal. This is not an alternate main dish such as pizza, peanut butter, or chicken nuggets (unless that is the family menu) but a side dish that everyone shares, such as bread, pasta, fruit, etc. 

  • Include 4 or 5 foods: Meat or other protein; a couple of starchy foods, such as rice, potatoes, bread or tortillas; fruit or vegetable or both; and milk.
  • Include high-fat foods (butter, salad dressing, gravy). To get filled up, people with high calorie needs eat more, those with low calorie needs eat less.
  • Don't limit the menu to foods that are readily accepted. Children and adults learn to eat unfamiliar food when they see it again and again and when you give them an out by pairing unfamiliar with familiar food. Always put bread on the table—family members members can eat bread if all else fails.
  • Let children and other family members pick and choose from foods that are on the table. Don't try to persuade, entice, encourage, or cheer-lead them to eat anything they don't want to eat. Don't insist your child finish his food.  
  • Don't short-order cook or put substitutes on the table. Family members who aren't excited by today's meal will get lucky some other time.
  • Let yourself and your child eat as much as you are hungry for. Allow seconds or thirds of some foods even if others haven't been finished. 

Follow the  Division of Responsibility in Feeding

You do the what, when and where of feeding; other family members do the how much and whether of eating.

For more about making positive use of meals and snacks (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review other resources.

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