Mealtime Madness – 3 Tips to Help Make Family Meals More Enjoyable
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Looking for strategies to help reduce stress when it comes to feeding your picky eaters? We have you covered! 

Picture this: It’s a busy weeknight, you have to get dinner on the table in order to get out the door to your child’s soccer practice and you whip up a quick meal.  After setting it down on the table they make comments about how they don’t like it, and don’t take so much as a bite. 

Sound familiar? 

Family Dinner Tips - Picky Eaters and food variety

Meal planning and preparation can take a lot of time and effort; and for the meal you made to not be enjoyed after all that work can be incredibly frustrating.  As parents, we want the best for our children, and for them to be nourished in a way that supports their growth.  But sometimes in our efforts to encourage our children to eat “well”, we are doing them a disservice, and can instead be steering them away from building their own relationship to food and their appetite cues. 

In this blog post, we will be highlighting 3 strategies to help encourage your children to enjoy a variety of different foods, at their own pace, while improving the enjoyment of family meal time. 

1. Know Your Role 

One of the most helpful strategies when it comes to feeding your children is to honour each person’s role within the division of responsibility in feeding model.  Ellyn Satter, a Registered Dietitian, Family Therapist and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding created this model, which is the gold standard for feeding children. 

So what is the Division of Responsibility? When it comes to feeding toddlers through to adolescents the roles are: 

  • Parents are responsible for what, when and where 
  • Jobs of the parents include:  
    • Providing regular meals and snacks 
    • Choosing and preparing the foods being offered 
    • Being considerate of children’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes 
    • Letting children to grow into bodies that are right for them 
  • Children are then responsible for how much and whether to eat 
  • Jobs of the children include: 
    • Deciding what they will eat 
    • Learning to eat the food their parents eat 
    • Learning to behave well at mealtime 

Ultimately, parents need to trust their children to feed themselves in a way that is both nourishing their bodies and fostering a positive relationship to food and their bodies. 

For more information and helpful strategies when it comes to following the Division of Responsibility, you can visit the Ellyn Satter Institute website.

a famil sits together at the dinner table. There is a roast chicken on a platter and they are passing serving dishes of potatoes.

2. Wise Introductions 

 Almost all parents who come to me seeking guidance for feeding their children are concerned that their kids aren’t eating well.  They worry about how their children don’t like vegetables, that they show preference for the same foods every day, and that they avoid certain food groups all together.  This is completely understandable as we want our children to flourish, feel the best they can, and avoid getting sick.  Because of this, or perhaps the way we grew up eating, we may then begin to ask our children to eat certain foods or take a bite of something they say they don’t like eating.  Although this feeding style is quite common, it may surprise you to hear that pushing children to take bites of certain foods, or offering dessert only if they finish their veggies can backfire.  Pressuring kids to eat may cause problems in the long run; including children developing tendencies to overeat, developing aversions to certain foods, and the inability to gage and respond to their natural feeding cues. 

So how do we encourage variety without pressure?   

Expose your kids to new food items in bite-sized portions

Rather than serving a typical sized portion of say bell peppers on their plate, simply serve only a small slice or two of pepper. Once the plate is placed in front of them, it’s up to your child to decide if they want to smell it, taste it, or simply look at it.  Remember, it can take upwards of 20 times of being offered something for our children to develop a liking for particular foods; and it could take years before your child even shows interest in a particular food.   

To read more on food exposure, click here.

    Get them involved

    Another way to increase the likelihood of your children trying new foods is to get them involved with meal planning and prep.  Ask them what part about that particular food or meal doesn’t appeal to them. Might it be the texture? The sauce used? The mixture of several ingredients?  You can also have your kids help with the grocery shopping, decide on what to prepare for dinner certain days of the week, or assist with setting the table.  

    family preparing pancakes together in the kitchen

    3. Sweeten Up  

    A big pain point for many parents is not knowing how much sugar is “too much sugar” and feeling as though they need to restrict their children’s intake of sweets.  The strategy here is to actually serve these types of foods to your kids often, and even serve them with their dinner. Why? By exposing your kids to sweet foods often, you are showing them that they’re always going to be around, and that they don’t need to load up and overeat them because they’ll be offered again soon.  If we are to restrict or limit our kids’ intake of sweets, this can actually cause them to be preoccupied with them, view them as more of a “forbidden” or “special” food, and treat them as such whenever they get access to them. 

    Remember, your role as the parent is to decide when these foods will be offered and also the serving size. When offering dessert with dinner for example, each child can enjoy one slice of cake if they’re interested, and everyone can be made aware that this is the serving that will be available for the meal. 

    Looking for more advice and ideas when it comes to family feeding and meal planning? Book an appointment with one of our team members who specialize in family nutrition! 

    Let our meal planning dietitian support you with a customized plan that makes sense for your family situation, food preferences, and schedule. You don’t need to plan complicated meal plans for weeks at a time or spend all day Sunday prepping for the week ahead. If you are like many of our clients who are not great at planning and need super simple systems for shopping, cooking, and meal ideas, we’ve got you covered.


    Don’t forget to check your health insurance! Many insurance plans cover Dietitian services.

    Looking for some recipes the whole family with love? Try these! 

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