Raising Your Child to Eat Well

Feeding your child is part of parenting. Parents and caregivers help children to develop healthy eating habits.

It isn’t about “getting your child to eat.” As a parent or caregiver, both you and your child have a job to do.

As a parent, you may be thinking about what foods to feed your child, but did you know that how you offer those foods is also important?

The Feeding Relationship

You and your child have a special relationship when it comes to feeding and eating, and like all relationships, it is based on trust. Developing a healthy feeding relationship with your child helps:

  • Develop your child’s food skills.
  • Support your child’s interest in food.
  • Shape your child’s attitudes about food.
  • Shape your child’s eating practices for a lifetime.

In a healthy feeding relationship, both you and your child have a job to do. You do your job and trust your child to do theirs.

You decide:

  • What foods to offer.
  • When foods are offered.
  • Where and how foods are offered.

Trust your child to decide:

  • Which foods, if any, they want to eat from the foods offered.
  • How much to eat from the foods offered.

Check out the Ellyn Satter Institute to learn more about establishing a healthy feeding relationship with your child by following the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.

Mealtime Challenges

For many families, mealtimes can be stressful. What parents sometimes see as “challenges” at mealtimes are usually normal child behaviours. These are part of learning about food and eating. Children sometimes:

  • eat more on some days and less on others.
  • refuse to eat new foods or change their minds about foods they ate before.
  • refuse a meal or snack.
  • want to eat the same foods over and over again.
  • are cautious with new foods.

To help reduce stress at mealtimes, do your job with feeding and let your child do their job with eating. Check out the tips below to help your child to eat well for life.

Tips to help your child eat well for life

Make family meals a priority (click to expand) »
  • Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.
  • Make mealtimes pleasant and relaxing.
  • Let your child see you enjoying a variety of foods.
  • Serve food “family-style” in larger bowls or serving dishes on the table. Family members serve themselves based on their hunger cues and food preferences.
  • Help your child focus on eating by removing distractions during mealtimes. Distractions include TV, phones, tablets, computers, and toys.
Schedule meals and snacks at regular and reliable times (click to expand) »
  • Offer three meals and 2-3 snacks at about the same time each day.
  • Try to offer snacks every 2-3 hours between meals. Offer snacks sat at the table.
  • Offer only water between regular meals and snacks. Offering food or other beverages could spoil your child’s appetite for their regular meals and snacks.
Trust your child’s appetite (click to expand) »
  • Start by offering small amounts of food at meals and let your child decide if they want to eat the foods you offer, and how much. Offer more food if your child is still hungry. Your child knows best how much food they need. The amount of food your child eats at each meal and snack may change from day to day depending on many things such as:
    • activity level
    • growth spurts
    • emotions like excitement or sadness
  • Trust and respect your child when they say they are full or still hungry.
  • Even with the best intentions, sometimes we do not trust our child’s appetite and we put pressure on them to eat. Pressure can come in many forms. Pressure is anything we do to make a child eat something they do not want. Even things that seem encouraging or playful can be forms of pressure.
  • Here are some examples:
Type of Pressure Example
Forcing “Stay in your chair until you eat your carrots”
Punishing “If you don’t eat your meat, we won’t go to the park”
Lecturing “Eat your orange because it’s good for you”
Coaxing “Have one more bite”
Bribing “If you eat another bite of broccoli, you can have an extra bedtime story”
Playing food games Bringing a spoonful of food to the mouth saying “here comes the airplane”

Did you know?

Pressuring your child to eat does not help them learn to enjoy eating and may make them avoid some foods.

Help your child learn to enjoy new foods (click to expand) »
  • Be patient and let your child explore new foods. Let them decide whether they want to try the new food. Children often need to see, smell, and touch a food many times before they will taste it and they may need to taste a food many times before they eat it.
  • Prepare one meal for the family and give your child the opportunity to learn to like these foods. Making one meal for the family will help your child learn to eat the same foods you enjoy.
  • When offering a new food, try to include one or two foods that the child generally eats, such as milk, bread, and fruit, so they do not feel overwhelmed by all new foods. When offering a new food, start with a small amount and let the child decide if they want to try it.
Involve your child (click to expand) »
  • Plan out meals and snacks with your child.
  • Get your child involved in making meals and snacks.

Services related to this information:

811 NL HealthLine/Dial-a-Dietitian (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555

Share This Page:
Last updated: 2024-01-19