Feeding Strategies for Children

5/6/2020 | Lauren Baker, RDN, LD

Helpful Tips

  • Offer meals and snacks on a regular and consistent schedule. Similar to schools, there is one time and place to eat. This doesn’t change for the whole school year.
  • Offer a variety of foods at each meal. Use colorful fruits and vegetables to make food more appetizing. The earlier we can expose children to differing foods, the less picky they become.
  • Keep mealtimes pleasant. Family meals are a time to connect with your child and learn about their day.
  • Set a good example. Practicing the behaviors you want your kids to follow since they can see right through “do as I say, not as I do”
  • Practice good manners. Teaching children to say “please” and “thank you” and to respect the food in front of them.


Mealtime Battles and Solutions

Child eats the same few foods every meal, known as “Food Jags”

Solution: Keep the “jag” food and put another unfamiliar food on the plate next to it. Don’t take away the favorite food.


Child refuses to eat what is offered

Solution: Don’t turn into a short order cook as this only furthers the problem. Instead, offer one meal with preferred and non-preferred foods together. It is okay to let your child skip a meal- this is the process of learning to like a new food.


Child does not want to sit at the table

Solution: Remove all distractions from meals- no TV, no tablet, and no cell phones. Sit at the table and talk to each family member about their day.


Child complains about the food served.

Solution: Reassure your child the food doesn’t have to be eaten. Simply have it available and don’t force it.


Child becomes fearful or upset when asked to try new foods.

Solution: Avoid this at mealtimes- remember that we want to keep this part of the day positive. Don’t force your child to eat a food they are not comfortable with. Simply have it available and do not put attention on the food.


Trying New Foods

How children naturally try new foods:

  • Look at it
  • Smell it
  • Touch it
  • Lick it
  • Take one small bite
  • Spit it out in a napkin
  • And Repeat!

Children do all of this without any prompting, if it offered in a neutral environment.


No Pressure, No Forcing

It may take 10-15 exposures before taste buds learn to like new foods.


Putting it all together with the ‘Division of Responsibility’ feeding method

This strategy allows your child independence with eating, and also allows appropriate guidance from parents.

  • Parents are responsible for WHAT, WHEN and WHERE food is offered
  • Children are responsible for HOW MUCH and WHETHER he or she wants to eat


What about snacks?

  • Provide opportunity for a ‘Sit-Down-Snack’. Sitting at the table (like meals) without distractions.
  • Offer them a choice between two similar options:
    • Peanut butter and apple, OR walnuts and grapes
    • Crackers and cheese, OR tortilla chips and salsa
    • Granola bar, OR trail mix
  • Common Pit Fall: letting child eat too many snacks between meals. This can let him or her become too full and then not have an appetite to eat well at meals.


What about drinks?

  • Offer Milk at meals and only water in between. Drinking too much milk can let children fill up on liquids and not be hungry for solid foods.
  • If allowing juice, offer at one meal.


Age appropriate Portion Sizes

  • 1-3 years old. Milk Serving: <20 oz/day. 100% Juice Serving: <4 oz/day
  • 4-6 years old. Milk Serving: <24 oz/day. 100% Juice Serving: <6 oz/day
  • 7-18 years old. Milk Serving: <24 oz/day. 100% Juice Serving: <8 oz/day

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