5 Ways to Simplify Feeding Your Children

Once again I am hosting a guest blogger once a week throughout the summer. I’ve already got a quite a few lined up for you but I do have a few spots still open if you are interested in being included.  Drop me an email with your post idea :)

This week’s topic while not directly related to organizing is definitely one about simplicity and one I can relate to wholeheartedly.  As you know my middle child has severe food allergies and as a result when he was younger he had some serious food aversions.  He ate next to nothing and it was exhausting physically and mentally fighting with him every day.  This advice presented here is the same advice that we were given many years ago and it changed everything for us (especially the Ellyn Satter technique) and I am so thankful we came through that very dark time and are now able to be a success story for someone else who may be experiencing something similar.

Welcome Maryann!

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, is a registered dietitian, mother of two and creator of www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com, a blog dedicated to providing parents with credible nutrition advice.

As moms, we take time to organize our closets, diaper bags and kitchen cabinets.  We also plan our weekly meals and grocery lists.  All of these tasks help our family life run without too many glitches.

But what you may not realize is that organizing the way you feed your kids, like the other tasks you do, helps to free up your time and relieve stress.  And it might even help your kids eat a little healthier too.

So here are 5 things you can start doing to make feeding time more efficient, pleasant and a lot more  fun.

1. Provide structured meals and snacks: What are you supposed to do when your child asks for food all day long?  Do you give in or say no and watch the meltdown happen?

The easiest solution is to have structure around mealtimes.  That means meals and snacks are around the same times most days and, when home, are eaten at the kitchen table.  Once your child understands this routine won’t change, they’ll stop asking for food as much.  But when they do ask you can remind them when the next meal is coming.  And if it’s a sweet treat they want, you can tell them you’ll plan it for a future mealtime (You might be surprised how much better this works than saying “no”).

This also helps kids learn to separate food from other activities like watching TV, boredom and upset feelings.  They are also more likely to be hungry (not famished) for meals and less likely to eat too much or too little.

2. Split the Responsibility with Your Child: Most prominent health organizations support the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility of Feeding meaning parents decide the when, what and where of feeding and children decide the whether and how much of eating.

When mealtime becomes tense it’s usually the result of either the parent or child taking over the other person’s job. So if your kids have been calling the shots at mealtime, let them know that you decide what and when they eat.  And if you have been trying to get them to eat more or less, back off and let them decide how much or whether to eat.

Research shows that kids are more likely to try new foods when not pressured.  In fact, exposure and role modeling are shown to be the most effective in getting little ones to be more adventurous eaters.

3. Offer both Types of Food: You might be hesitant to try new family meals with your kids because they won’t eat it.  But by not offering new foods, they miss the chance to expand their palate.  Once again, it’s all about strategy.

A 2007 review study in Current Nutrition & Food Science reveals that  kids are more likely to try new or previously disliked foods when they are paired with familiar foods.  So instead of plopping a whole new meal in front of them, make sure that there is one or two other items you know they’ll eat like fruit, bread or certain vegetables.

I strategically plan my dinner meals with my picky-eating daughter in mind.  If dinner is going to be a new entree I make sure lunch is an old standby but I might try a new side.  All week I serve foods she loves with other foods and she’s gradually expanding her repertoire.

4. Provide structure with beverages too: Kids can fill up on milk or juice causing them to eat less nutritious foods.  Don’t get me wrong, milk and juice add important nutrition but too much can displace other foods in the diet.

In her books feeding expert Ellyn Satter recommends water as the in-between beverage of choice.  So buy a special water cup and always have that near your child whether or not they ask for it.  You are teaching them that water is the best thirst quencher.

Get in the habit of offering milk or juice with meals.  When it comes to juice the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to 4-6 ounces for children 1 to 6 years old and 8-12 ounces for kids 7-18 years old.  In order to meet calcium needs, 2 to 8 year olds need 2 cups of milk (or equivalents) and 9 to 18 year olds need three. 

5. Don’t forget about sweets: Research shows that restricting kids’ access to sweet or empty-calorie foods can promote their intake of such foods.  So what’s a parent to do?

Make sure to include your kids’ favorite indulgence one to two times per week.  I like offering these items at snack time so they don’t compete with other nutritional items at the meal.  So it might be cookies and milk at one snack and chips at another.  This shows kids that while they don’t have these items all the time, they will get them on a regular basis.  And this helps them learn moderation.

You’ll  be amazed how smoothly feeding goes when the structure and flexible rules are in place.  Of course it’s okay for parents to veer from this structure from time to time.  At birthday parties my daughter sips on juice and often grazes on food.

But most of time she has structure which will help her grow into a healthy and happy eater.  And it keeps me sane, which is important too.

How does feeding go at your house?  Any challenges or successes you want to share?


Filed under: Guest Bloggers


23 Responses to 5 Ways to Simplify Feeding Your Children

  1. 1
    Allison Erhardt says

    I really like some of those ideas. My son is becoming a picky eater. He is 2 and a half. He used to eat anything and enjoy it but now he basically rejects all fruit and veggies. The only event I can think of was that we gave him raw carrot when maybe he wasn’t ready for raw and crunchy. Now he won’t eat any of it.

    I really like the idea of introducing new foods with old stand bys. I never thought of doing it that way. I think I will do that to try and reintroduce fruits into his diet, because he won’t eat any of them. No apples, oranges, nectorines, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, melons… nothing! Not even a sugery fruit cup or apple sauce! He just won’t eat fruit. Veggies, he’ll eat a few, but that’s all. I will try some of these ideas though. Thank you very much for sharing!

  2. 2
    Dawn says

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have a 2 yr old that will eat little more than chicken dogs (hot dogs made from chicken). Occasionally I can get him to eat a banana, apple sauce, raisins and maybe a couple of slices of apple. He is sooo super picky – he does like other foods, but getting him to try them is next to impossible. He grazes all day long and I am so sick of opening up the fridge for him every five minutes. I know structured meal times will help us all, but how do I make the switch? If we just go cold turkey, I know there will be days of constant melt downs. I am afraid my sanity can’t take it. Any advice on easing into it? Do I need to schedule a couple of very busy days so we don’t have time to eat except at designated times?

    Thanks again!

    • 2.1
      Maryann @ Raise Healthy Eaters says


      First off, studies show kids who graze on food all day eat less nutritious diets than those who have regular meals. I would start by explaining to him that things are going to change. That you decide the when, what and where of eating and he gets to decide how much or whether to eat at all. You can start by enforcing this at home — having him eat at the table for mealtimes. When he asks for food remind him that you having meals every few hours at the table (the next meal is coming in 1 hour). When you are out, you can be more lenient but eventually will want to add structure except for parties and special occasions.

      When kids are young, they transition better than you think. Kids really do crave structure and once he knows the routine is here to stay, he will do much better.

      I hope that helps!

  3. 3
    Tightwad says

    Hi – thank you for these great tips! I recently caved and let my three year old twins share their first hot dog. I feel guilty, but decided that being controlling around food is not healthy, either. We’ve been successful in promoting healthy foods and not drinking too much juice. As far as sweets, even if I was comfortable with them eating very many, I quake in fear of them bouncing off the walls on an all day sugar high. The kids love chickpeas, eggs, oatmeal, sweet peas, oranges and peanut butter. They love anything we (their parents) are eating for dinner (not too keen on lettuce though). Their diet is near and dear to my heart and thanks for the great tips! Emma @ Tightwad

  4. 4
    Denise Porter says

    I think a lot of it is modelling. I don’t like “rabbit food” and neither did my first husband. And so it isn’t surprising that my 10 yr old son won’t eat salad type things – unless it is a taco salad slathered in dressing with lots of cheese and meat…

    My husband and I split up when my daughter was 18 months old and I began a new relationship shortly thereafter. So my daughter (who is almost 5) has had a role model in her step-father… he eats huge salads, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes etc.

    While Isobel’s stepdad gives her too many sweets, it is amazing to watch her chomp down the veggies. She took cucumber slices, apples, and carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes etc. to preschool for her snack. And even those of us not keen on veggies are trying a few more.

    So model good eating habits and see what happens… you might be surprised!

  5. 5
    FoodontheTable says

    This is a great post. I really like the idea of structure. It works the same with adults too. If we have structure, then we don’t eat unhealthy things in large quantities when we’re starving!

  6. 6
    Teresa says

    i am so thankful that my 2 1/2 year old is NOT a picky eater. we have literally not come across one thing that he does not like. THANK GOD! i see other parents struggling and i can see their frustration.

    our guy eats what we eat aside from the very spicy. and because i am ukrainian, polish, irish and english and my husband is a malaysian born chinese, we always have a variety of foods being made in our home.

    i have always stuck by what my mom and dad did with my sister and me. they offered a variety of things and just because we maybe didn’t want to eat a certain something at one meal didn’t mean that my parents didn’t throw it on our plates at a different meal alongside something else that they knew we always ate. and you know what? we ate it. kids are stubborn sometimes! i think a lot of times, the parents almost cause their children to be picky by not offering variety or by giving up on offering certain things simply because their children said once or twice that they don’t like it. if you keep putting it on their plates, they’ll eat it. kids know how to work us i tell you! lol

    friends of ours complain of their son being a very picky eater and of only eating junk food. ummmm, how about, first, you stop giving him junk food. he KNOWS you’re going to give it to him so of course he knows how to ‘work you’ to get it. just stop giving in. the fits will stop after a few times of saying ‘no’. second, when their son is at our home, he eats just fine and he eats what we put in front of him. so, he’s not a picky eater, he just knows how to work his mom and dad to get only what he wants…and they give in every single time so, of course, he’s just going to keep turning his nose up at things.

    be consistent, don’t give in on saying ‘no’ to the junk food or the untimely snacks and just keep offering your children the variety that we, as adults, enjoy! you might be surprised. and, you know what, they will eat that broccoli one day!

  7. 8
    Tiffany says

    These are great ideas. I especially like the parent and child roles around feeding. And I’ve also found that my picky eater is more likely to try new foods when they are surrounded by foods he really likes.

  8. 9
    Kimberly says

    Thanks so much for an excellent and informative post. I was dealing with this issue with a client in the past week and this really sums up some great help for her. Meal time is always as issue with kids as they learn very early that there are two things you cannot ‘Force’ them to do- Eat and sleep. You can encourage and support but they soon figure out that they have the power to put what they want in their mouth .
    This gives some great, practical advice on how to encourage and teach them healthy eating habits.

  9. 10
    Wayne Evans says

    Fab post! I am so glad to see others with the same views as me…I was beginning to think I was mad!

    best regards


  10. 11
    Rebecca says

    Thanks for the very informative post. My kids are pretty good eaters. My main problems is pleasing a diverse family. I have a 16m old, an almost 3 yr old and a 15 1/2 yr old stepdaughter plus my hubby who is the Mexican version of a meat and potatoes man. The meat and potatoes gets interesting when my two little guys only want to eat produce! I really liked the division of responsibilities/roles. That is how we have always been with my stepdaughter since she about 10 but I haven’t thought about it exactly that way for the babies… Thanks! http://www.pantrycookinmama.com

  11. 12
    DebbyD says

    Thanks for posting this. My DD has a severe food allergy and when I read this I am glad that I do what I do considering their meals and snacks.
    I really likes the piece about favorite foods. I found out that our children pick not such bad foods when they can choose.

  12. 13
    genie says

    Thank you so much for telling me that I am not a horrible mom for letting my 2 year old eat chips. It’s not every day, but maybe once a week and if we’re out at pot lucks or wherever. I had never thought about by not giving it to her, she would want it more… and inadvertently seem to have done the right thing.

    We do need to get a bit more structure around meals… I feed only healthy stuff on demand (bananas, organic granola bars, cheese, yogurt…) and we eat meals at general normal times. I nursed her on demand for 17 months and so went from that to real food in the same pattern. I’m not quite sure when I was supposed to have started a schedule?

    On a huge plus side, she eats almost everything from raw red cabbage to apples to broccoli… but no milk. So we do give vitamins and calcium supplemented orange juice… But as I have issues with dairy, I’m guessing that she might, too.

  13. 14
    Emily/Miss Mommy says

    Thank you so much for these tips. I have one phenomenal eater and one picky eater. I always feel like a bad parent that I can’t get my second child to eat better, and it’s embarrassing in front of others who seem to have it all together. Anyway, thanks for these tips- many were new to me!

  14. 15
    Zom G. says

    After a few weeks of the toddler flip-flop diet (eat nothing/eat everything) this is really calming advice. My little dude is famous for his veggie intake ( I credit our back-yard veggie patch), but this is great advice for days when he just won’t eat anything!

  15. 16
    Alexia says

    I really like these rules. There are a couple I already follow, but I really need to structure my meals during the day. I’ve always been a fan of eating while doing other things (and can see the negative impact it’s had on me) and I really don’t want my boys to pick up on that.

    I think modeling the behavior ourselves is so important. It’s so much harder to change my habits though *sigh* I was I was as flexible as my boys are LOL

  16. 17
    Carol says

    Thank you. My son is a picky eater. I hope he does grow out of it. I’m going to follow all your tips and I hope they work out well.


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