Doctor’s ℞: 10 Fool Proof Tips For Successfully Feeding Your Kids

by Jennifer A. Gardner, M.D. on June 21, 2013

Part 3  Fool Proof Tips For Feeding Children

In Part 1, we reviewed a proven feeding system for children that when followed properly, avoids nearly all the common feeding mistakes parents make and promotes bringing structure and order to feeds. 
In Part 2, we learned the biggest feeding mistakes almost all parents make at one point and why they backfire as well as what constitutes normal feeding patterns in childhood. 
In Part 3, we pull all this together into 10 feeding tips! 

Here are 10 feeding tips that work for any famiy struggling to improve their child’s diet!
  • Meals and snacks should be planned for, not haphazard. You do this by scheduling meals and snacks to make them happen.
  • Plan your menu in advance: Avoid the annoying 5 o'clock stare down with your refrigerator by knowing in the morning what will be served for lunch and dinner. This gives you time to gather necessary ingredients or defrost, if necessary.

Keep a well stocked pantry and have 5 or 6 “go to meals” that you know like the back of your hand.  These should be easy and fast and use only ingredients that are always present in the pantry or freezer.  When you just can't face another dinner production, you can pull these meals together with little thought, making life so much easier! (Some I like are spaghetti with tomato sauce, egg and spinach fritatta, buttered noodles with peas and cheese, and baked chicken and rice.)

In addition, I always try to have one or two meals in the freezer at all times. Lasagna, meatloaf, chili, soups, stews, and meat or poultry casseroles all freeze well. So do many sides like pasta, rice, mashed potatoes and beans. And of course, many frozen vegetables are great choices including peas, spinach, edamame, corn, and string beans.

  • Know what constitutes healthy meals and snacks. If you follow this for most meals and snacks, your child's health and energy will improve! 

Dinner should consist of 4 or 5 food items (including a protein, 1 or 2 starches  (preferably whole grain), and 1 or 2 fruits/vegetables).
Breakfast and Lunch should consist of 2 to 3 food items (a protein, a starch  (preferably whole grain), and a fruit/vegetable).
Snacks ideally should include a “P” (protein, produce or both). Snacks are “mini  meals,” and, as such, should be eaten at the table, not on the go or in front of a screen (TV, computer, DVD, games). Snacks are different than “treats” or dessert. Most "between meal" eating should be snacks, not treats!

  • Meals Matter! Aim to eat most meals at home, together, at the dinner table.  Family meals tend to be healthier, and studies show that kids who eat meals with the family are slimmer, healthier and report being closer to the family. Need more convincing? The single best intervention parents can make to reduce alcohol and drug use or adolescent sexual intercourse is sitting down to family meals most nights of the week. This is challenging, but not impossible. Make it happen!
Studies show that eating meals together is more important than family income, marital status, after school activities, or religious beliefs. Wow, did you get that?
  • Stay Calm, Carry On. Genuine parental concern is often manifested at mealtime as stress, which makes any meal unenjoyable for parent and kids. When food issues (such as food refusal or demanding an item not on the table) crop up, and they will, stay calm and casual. Relax and never let them see you sweat! If they feel they have controlled the situation, you can bet they will do it again....
  • The parent’s responsibility ends at the kitchen table. Once food is served, parents are not allowed to influence the child’s choice. They have permission to sit back and enjoy the food and not worry about what the child is eating. In fact, the only way a parent is allowed to “encourage” the child is to remind him or her to follow internal hunger cues and stop when satisfied.
  • The child’s responsibility ends when he sits down to eat. From there, the child can choose to eat, or not, and either is fine. He can sit down at the table knowing no pressure will be 'served!'
  • No cheerleading, begging, pleading, pressuring, prodding, whining, or guilt is allowed at the table from parents or kids.
  • Talk at the table should be about anything but food. It should be an enjoyable time to get down to family business or share what happened that day.
  • What kids love today, they may hate tomorrow, and what they hate today, they may love tomorrow. Just keep offering the foods that you like and value. Be sure to give kids the time and repetition needed to learn food acceptance. It can take more than 20 food exposures for them to even try a food, many more to accept, and still more to like. Parental patience makes a healthier eater!
Bonus Tip
  • If you want your kids to eat well, you must eat well. If you don’t, you must improve this before ever asking your children to. You are their biggest role model, and they look to you for feeding cues. Be the best role model you can!

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