What to do if your kids won’t eat learning it foods

Over the past few weeks, we have talked about both family style meals and how to handle when our children only eat their love it foods.

Still, many moms are likely wondering a question I hear echoed again and again. It goes like this:

Family style meals diffuse the battles for sure. But my picky eaters always tend to pick the same foods (fruit, bread, etc) so I wonder if it's still worth doing if they don't really try anything new. Know what I mean?

That’s why in this week’s post, I am going to dissect this simple and yet common question a bit more to get to the Achilles heel of this question:

...Is it still worth doing if they don’t really try anything new.


I think if there is one question that gets to the heart of my mission at Veggies & Virtue, it might be this.

As a health practitioner, it is my job to convince parents that yes - it is “worth it” to invest in our children’s health in this way, early on, through feeding them in ways that help them grow into being a competent eater. As a parent, however, I recognize firsthand how defeating it can be to feed kids who aren’t naturally adventurous eaters or inclined to try everything offered. So let’s take time this week to evaluate this underlying wonder so many of us parents have amidst the untouched meals.

In this post, we will:

  1. Redefine the definition of “worth” (in feeding/eating)

  2. Address a progress > perfection mindset shift

  3. Identify more than 25 ways to help your child learn to like new foods

 
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What to do if your kids won’t eat learning it foods

Note: This page includes affiliate links. All opinions are my own.

Our definition of “worth”

The reality is that for most of us parents, we use an objective measure of “worth” in the feeding relationship based on if/whether and how much our child ate of a given food.

It is understandable why we look at a meal and deem its success in that way. But I promise you, you are setting yourself up for failure, frustration, and disconnect in your feeding relationship with your child if we continue to consider you “wins” in such a way.

If you have ever followed my Food Win Wednesdays before, you know that I get about as granular as it gets.

That’s because whether it is in my own family or in working with clients, rarely ever are our most genuine wins big, overnight ones.

Instead, the success we see in raising healthy eaters tends to be small...really small. At to that it also being VERY slow, particularly with kids who are picky eaters, and it is no wonder why so many parents I work with feel like they are getting no where in trying to offer healthy options. This continual questioning of if progress is happening leads to a parent’s natural wonder of if all their time, all their energy, all the food that gets wasted is really even worth it.

So let’s redefine worth here.

Worth is NOT an objective measure of what is eaten (or not). If it was, then so many of us would have to reduce everything we do as part of our role in the Division of Responsibility in feeding as worthless.

But what if we re-evaluated worth in the context of feeding the same way we do in other areas of parenting?

  • Is it worth it to drive our kids 30 minutes each way for a 15 minute swim lesson that costs $35 per class when they still don’t even know how to swim? How long is it worth it to us to consistently show up and entertain this crazy song and dance when our kids still can’t swim?

  • Is it worth it to us to commit to singing the ABC’s 842 times before our kids ever echo it back? How long is it worth it to us to consistently show up and entertain practicing letters, uppercase and lowercase, sight words, and board books when our kids still can’t read?

  • Is it worth it to us to commit to reminding our kids 10,052 times as toddlers to be kind if they are going to steal toys and hit other kids anyways? How long is it worth it to us to consistently show up and entertain play dates where they practice how to play nicely and kindly treat others, outings where they learn how to act in public, and social situations where we face more meltdowns than make-mama-proud moments?

If we look at any of these common things we commit to doing with our kids as binary worth of swimmer or not, reader or not, respectable member of society or not, then a lot of us are still flat failing - myself included.

That’s because for most of us, we are still in the trenches. Our kids are still so little. And with that, their skills are still so immature. Sure we have invested A LOT into their eating and hopefully, their eating well. But for many of us, it is still really hard to see the worth.

So we can either decide, “this is worthless” and stop showing up to meal after meal and snack after snack. Or, we can decide that we are going to keep entertaining the idea that someday, down the road, this investment we are making in our small kids will all prove worth it…one small win at a time.

Just as our kids grow into capable swimmers, readers, and kind citizens of society, they too will grow into competent eaters. We just need to continue to show up, even when meals go untouched, and to zoom in our lens a bit closer. If we look close enough, we can begin to see this approach to feeding is worth it. The return on our investment just isn’t overnight.

Progress not perfection

This is kind of a cliche phrase and yet, for good reason particularly to us as parents.

Our kids eating perfection is not what we are after. What we do want, and how we will begin to redefine “worth” in the feeding relationship is by seeing gradual progress.

So what does that look like?

One resource that I love and think is not shared nearly enough in the feeding world is this diagram of the steps of eating.

Created by feeding experts from the SOS Approach, this visual puts to shame the often recited advice to “expose your kids to something 10-20 times.” This advice literally makes me cringe when I hear people say it. Even well-intended professionals say it ALL. THE. TIME.

The reason I rarely quote this piece of evidenced-based advice though is because I know firsthand how defeating it can be when you do offer a new food 10...11...12...20+ times and still, your kid doesn’t care. Then what? Are parents just supposed to stop offering it?

No. Parents should be encouraged to be look for signs of progress with that one food as well as in signs for progress in their child’s overall diet that are indicative of progress in other areas as well.

This diagram, in my opinion, does that.

It gets to the point that SO many pieces of advice on picky eating miss. That is, children may take years to learn to like new foods. If it is a nourishing food though, nutritionally, socially, spiritually, or physically, then we as parents are to continue to help them learn to like it in as many age-appropriate ways as possible for as long as possible until they learn to like it. We are all entitled to have foods we “don’t like.” However, when our children are still young and often have many more foods on their “don’t” versus “do” like lists, we set them better up for success in developing a lifelong healthy relationship with all foods when we evaluate progress in an ongoing manner.

That is, progress is made when a child moves from learning to like a new food to loving it by way of:

  • Tolerating it

  • Interacting with it

  • Smelling it

  • Touching it

  • Tasting it

  • Eating it

Identifying the 32 steps to eating that are actually required to move a child from offering to eating a new, “learning it” food can be a transformational thing for parents. In doing so, both “worth” and “progress” are quickly redefined into smaller, simpler acts of “eating” that don’t undermine the progress made even when no food is actually consumed.

Learning it foods

There is a reason why I never labeled this category, “Don’t like it” foods. That would quickly blacklist a lot of foods that we would like for our children to enjoy over the course of their childhood but ones that they might not instantly do so with or might enjoy for a time only to later reject. That’s because, like swimming, reading, and relating with others, our children have to LEARN these things. As infants, they have to learn how to eat. As toddlers and then throughout their childhood, they have to learn what to eat. So how do we help them do that?

Let’s evaluate some strategies for how to help a child who won’t eat any of their learning it foods.

What would you do if your kids wouldn’t eat any of the learning it foods?

Chances are, we are jumping too far ahead of ourselves and assuming our child to immediately tolerate and instantly eat a new food. Since we often hear it can take 10-20 exposures for a child to learn to like something, we often look for quick success or at least obvious progress. However, this may not be the case.

When we slow down the learning to like process to be more alike any other process we are familiar with helping our child grow and develop in, we begin to see strategies for smaller, every day successes. We begin to redefine “success” and the worth of our child’s efforts and our own, and we begin to recognize the progress by not focusing on perfection.

Instead, you can help your child learn to like new foods by helping them to:

Tolerate learning it foods

  • Parent can select the learning it food to put near child in the grocery cart

  • Parent can prepare the learning it food in the kitchen while child is present

  • Parent can eat the learning it food in front of child

  • Parent can serve the learning it food family style on the table near child

  • Parent can help pass the learning it food around child at the table

Favorite tool to help kids tolerate learning it foods: visual grocery lists like this one, family style meals

Interact with learning it foods

  • Child can help select the learning it food at the store and place it in cart

  • Child can help prepare the learning it food

  • Child can self-serve the learning it food from a family style meal

  • Child can help pass the learning it food to other family members at the table

  • Child can serve other the learning it food

Favorite tool to help kids interact with learning it foods: Foost first knives, crinkle cutters, apple spiralizer, cherry pitter, salad spinners, Little Partners Learning Tower, DIY sensory bin, tongs

Smell learning it foods

  • Child can smell the learning it food in a room

  • Child can smell the learning it food at the table

  • Child can smell the learning it food in front of them

  • Child can lean down and smell the learning it food

  • Child can pick up and smell the learning it food

Favorite tool to help kids smell learning it foods: lemon juicer, zester

Touch learning it foods

  • Child will poke the learning it food with one finger tip

  • Child will hold the learning it food in hand

  • Child will allow the learning it food to touch their face (chin, cheek, nose)

  • Child will touch the learning it food to their lips or teeth

  • Child will place the learning it food at the tip or on top of their tongue

Favorite tool to help kids touch learning it foods: nutridashe food picks, other pokers, muffin tin meals, cookie cutters, dylbug products (use code veggiesandvirtue for 10% off orders)

Taste learning it foods

  • Child licks the learning it food

  • Child bites off a piece of the learning it food and spits it out immediately

  • Child bites off a piece of the learning it food and spits it out after a number of seconds or chews

  • Child chews the learning it food, swallowing some and spitting out other

  • Child chews and swallows the learning it food with a drink and later without

Favorite tool to help kids taste learning it foods: Official taste tester card (in my Love it, Like it, Learning it Starter Kit)

Eat learning it foods

  • Child eats the learning it food independently!

In sharing a summary of the 32 steps to eating, I believe parents are better able to understand why children need to be given endless opportunities to learn to like learning it foods. With some foods, a child may progress from tolerating to eating rather quickly. With others, a child may need several exposures to even move from one category to the next. Other times, a child may be eating a food and regress back to the beginning of the process for some time. Whatever pathway a child takes in general, overall, or with a given food, parents can take heart that progress is taking place when they see their child initiate steps towards eating.

Next Steps

I challenge you, if you are struggling to know what to do with the long list of foods your child is still learning to like, do this.

  1. Print out my Love it, Like it, Learning it download. It includes 150 suggested foods and a Love it, Like it, Learning it template to plug each of these foods into for your child/family. You can do so by entering your email here.

2. Go through the foods you most want your child to learn to like. These might be because they’re commonplace in your family’s diet, have nutritional benefits lacking in your child’s diet, or are a food similar to a known love it food that you think your child could easily learn to like. Whatever the food, identify 5-10 foods you want to begin being more intentional about exposing your child to.

3. Start identifying where your child is at in their steps to eating towards each learning it food. Meet them where they are at and commit to allowing them to work through each step at their own pace, while also fostering a feeding environment that gently encourages them along in the process. Help them to find ways to tolerate, interact with, smell, touch, and taste these foods!

This process is not a quick fix but it does create lasting results. We can raise up children who eat what they are told OR children who learn to love the healthy options offered. By allowing our children the independence to self-feed learning it foods within the context of what, when, and where we offer them, can help them to lose their neophobia and gain a newfound freedom with new foods one sniff, touch, and taste at a time!



What do you when a child only wants to eat their "love it" food?

This Mom Asks:

My husband and I are struggling with our 4.5 year old at the moment. I love the concept of Division of Responsibility. I just finished reading It's Not About the Broccoli, and I've read lots of info on your site. The question that I can't seem to find the answer to (and maybe you've answered this before) is what do you do when a child only wants to eat their "love it" food and not the other foods served at the meal and then wants more of the "love it" food? Like if I served chicken (like it), pasta (love it), strawberries (like it), broccoli (learning it) and she only ate pasta and then wanted more, do we allow that? I'm assuming yes because the whole idea is to ease the pressure, but it goes against my inner mommy nutrition police!! Would love your take!

This is hands down the most popular question I get regarding my Love it, Like it, Learning it framework. Unfortunately until now, I haven’t had my answer in an easy place for parents to find.

That’s why I wanted to dedicate this week’s post to share my take. I will walk parents through how to think beyond the obvious answer to this question including some implications from each potential food parenting approach. Then, I will share what my recommended approach is with some practical tactics families can try. This will help parents maintain their job in the Division of Responsibility in feeding...and our kids don’t end up exclusively eating Goldfish crackers at every meal.

 
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Since I have gotten a question similar to the one above literally hundreds of times, I would say that in short, my answer is: YES. You allow them to choose if/whether they eat from all the foods offered and how much of each of those foods to consume (from what’s available). In order to stay consistent with the Division of Responsibility in feeding and “ease the pressure” (as this mom said so well), that’s the most basic answer.

I recognize how counter intuitive this seems to majority of parents though.

That’s because if we want our child to eat more of the other options that are offered (like the broccoli, strawberries, and chicken in the example above) and our aim is to promote a balanced diet for them, then wouldn’t it make more sense to limit “excessive” amounts of the preferred and often less nutrient-rich food option (like pasta in this example) and promote more of the healthier options offered?

Most parents, including many of my clients, would irrefutably say: yes, this makes perfect sense (which is why that’s exactly how parents tend to handle this scenario).

So let’s dissect this.

I have had to go against my own inner mommy nutrition police on this more than a time or two as well, and I want to share some important, evidenced-based insights to consider before we automatically default to acting on what feels intuitive here.

What do you do when a child only wants to eat their "love it" food and (and then wants more of it)?


Think beyond the obvious answer to this question

As a parent, it is so easy to react without ever stopping to think about why we do what we do or if it is even effective (let alone, evidenced-based). We often parent out of fear rather than from a place of trust and confidence in our children’s growing ability to make their own decisions, including around food and self-feeding.


What happens when we restrict

The question I usually ask clients when they want to restrict seconds or more “love it foods,” is this:

Can you withhold seconds (or thirds…) from your child WITHOUT practicing these behaviors in the process?

Rarely ever do a see a family that can.

That’s because when we restrict our children from deciding how much they want to eat (from what’s available), we often have to do so using behaviors that research again and again advises to avoid.

How do we learn to trust our children (in trusting themselves and their own appetites) when we override their requests for more or their decision that they’re done eating? More importantly, how do we equip our children to “listen to their bodies,” when we are the ones limiting their ability to have additional helpings or forcing them to eat more of foods they’ve already chosen not to eat? We don’t.

Instead, we begin to slowly override the mechanism for the internal regulation that they’re born with, deeming it “ineffective.”

Most kids are born to be good self-regulators. When offered enough nourishment, as infants, toddlers, and throughout their childhood, children know how much to consume for their unique body to grow and develop properly. In infancy, our babies were able to increase or decrease their intake of breastmilk or formula to adjust for their ever-changing needs and growth-spurts. Sometime after our children become toddlers though, we begin to assume that how much they eat is up to us...or surely, it should be because otherwise, they would fill up only on those less-nourishing love it foods that we as parents just don’t like.

The conflict is, the decision on if/whether and how much to eat is still up to them.

Sometimes, they may “fail.” They may over-indulge in a food we would have limited them from eating so much of. Even more challenging, they might do this again and again in a way that seems so far from nutritionally sound. But the goal here isn’t just on what they eat. It is just as much on how they learn to eat from what’s offered, which we do a disservice to when we restrict what they eat.

What happens when we restrict certain foods…

Instead of empowering our child to follow their intrinsic cues for hunger and fullness around all foods, a trap many families fall into is selectively choosing which foods are “okay” to have enough of and which ones aren’t. This negates the neutrality we need to approach foods with and assigns food with labels like “good” and “bad.”

We would never limit our child of broccoli, would we? But change that food item to pasta and parents change their approach to the idea of seconds or if their child really “needs” more of it.

The bottom line is, how we approach the concept of more should not shift based on the food item. Research shows how assigning certain foods as “good (for you)” and others as “bad (for you),” only makes children less inclined to eat the “good” food and more inclined to prefer, or elevate, the “bad” food.

What happens when we don’t restrict any foods…

When it comes to the Division of Responsibility in feeding, there is often the point made that once you have given your child their plate, your job is done.

That doesn’t mean you can’t help serve your child from a family style meal, discuss with them how meals are different than they once were, or help them learn to like new foods (next week’s blog post).

What it does imply though is that your job as the parent of deciding what foods will be offered, where to offer these foods, and when such eating opportunities occur has already been done. You have satisfied your job responsibilities for that meal or snack, so you can sit back, enjoy your own meal, and embrace that the hand off to your child has already been made.

When we approach meals like this, it literally transforms meal time dynamics. There is no power struggle over how many bites one must take, if seconds are allowed of one food but not another, or the constant strain on conversation because parents are so fixated on if/whether and how much their child eats.

What there is, is a pleasant family meal. Milk may spill and noodle night will forever make me wish we had a dog. But what happens when we don’t restrict any foods is…

We all get to eat. We get to enjoy the foods we know we love, learn to like those we don’t, and instead of being focused on if/whether and how much our kids are eating, we get to share in that time and focus on togetherness, training our kids in table manners, and teaching them how to become a competent eater without using restriction to do so.

It isn’t passive parenting not to pressure your children to eat one food or preventing them to eat more of another. It is preparing them for their future, when no one tells them if/whether and how much to eat as adults. That’s on them. If we have done our job properly in these early years, we can have confidence that there’s a pretty good chance our kids will be good at it as they grow and mature.

A quote I recently heard from Lisa DuBreuil, on the Comfort Food podcast, seems particularly fitting here - especially as it relates to raising children to be intuitive eaters of their own.

“Abundance + Permission = Discernment”


So then what? We just accept our kids only eat bread and butter every night?

Surely you know that is not what the dietitian in me is endorsing.

What I am encouraging us all to work towards though is raising children with intrinsic motivations and cues for healthy habits.

So how do we do this?

My Recommended Approach to “More”

Let me share my advice in the context of a mom’s recent question:

My LO had grilled cheese, butternut squash, & french green beans on her plate. Dad had the same thing except oranges instead of the squash. She finished her squash then saw the oranges on dad’s plate and asked for an orange. I peeled her a cutie and said "after this then you need to eat what’s on your plate for lunch." Well then, of course, she wanted another. I said "if you finish all of your plate and you’re still hungry, then you can have another orange." She would take a bite, then ask for the orange. This went back and forth for awhile then I finally just said no more oranges right now. So I am not sure how I could’ve handled that better. Any suggestions?

I understand the dynamics that make this confusing for this mom. She decided what to offer and then a new food came into the situation from dad’s lunch. This isn’t ideal but it happens all the time, so let me walk through how I would recommend approaching this situation.


First, take ownership.

Many of our food battles begin because we are indecisive going into them. The back in forth of this situation is ever so common between parents and children at the table because kids want to test boundaries that parents often haven’t even established yet. To prevent this mom (or dad) from getting into a battle of wills over if their daughter can have any or more oranges, they need to make up their mind on what’s being offered and what’s available.

Is an orange part of what is being offered in this child’s lunch?

  • If yes, then say something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re right. We forgot to include a fruit today. Great idea, Daddy. Let’s get one for you too!” Then provide her an orange of her own.

  • If no, then say something like, “We aren’t having oranges today because we need to save them for lunches the rest of the week. Maybe Daddy would share some of his with you?” Then only enjoy one as a family.


Second, decide how many helpings are available.

If you have decided that the given food is in fact a part of the meal, there may still be instances where seconds are not available. You may only have a certain amount of a given food and need to make it stretch further than one given meal. This may be based on a food budget or if a particular item is expensive and you only have so much of them (like a pint of raspberries when out of season). Or, it might be because you need some of it for another family member or meal during the week. In either case, there are times when we cannot offer all-you-can-eat of something. When this happens, take a proactive to approach the situation so that it doesn’t confuse your child and come across as food restriction.

Are more oranges available? This is asking not just if more are physically available (as in there are more in the house), but is it okay if your child eats as many as they want from those physically available.

  • If yes, then allow your child to ask for seconds, thirds, etc. Encourage them to chew their food, take time to listen to their body between helpings, and make sure they want more before you go peel another one for them. But don’t restrict them just for the sake of assuming they have had enough nor pressure them to eat another food first.

  • If no, matter of factly share with your child why you need to save what extras there are. Clearly share, “we need to leave some oranges for us to take to preschool on Thursday” or “to eat the rest of the week as I won’t be going to the store again,” etc. Use this as a chance to remind them when they will be able to enjoy this food again. This is also a chance to remind them about the abundance of other options still available. Saying something like, “If you still feel hungry though after you eat your orange, you’re welcome to eat the other foods offered until your tummy feels satisfied.”


Third, adjust as needed.

Say this child ends up putting down three cuties at lunch. That’s okay! By the mom deciding what was being offered at that meal, her child then was able to decide how much of it to eat. So parents role in this scenario is just to adjust, as needed. Maybe skip offering fruit at the next eating opportunity since this child just had extras earlier. Over the course of a day, week and month, it will all balance out.

The key is that we are allowing our child to practice self-regulation from what’s offered. In doing so, we remove any scarcity effect and give our children permission to decide if/whether and how much to eat from the abundance available. Then, if/when they eat more than we think they “need,” we can adjust future meals and snacks accordingly to fill in for any nutrient gaps as needed.

Some Tactics to Try

Another question on this topic often goes like this:

First, I want to thank you for your educational blog posts. The division of responsibilities and love it like learning it concepts are absolutely amazing. I have loved learning about these concepts and then implementing them with my son. They make so much sense!!! That said, I have a question I’m hoping you might have a chance to answer :)

If my son only eats one food in a given meal and keeps asking for more of only that food, do you keep going and going or eventually cut it off?

This parent has a general understanding of the Division of Responsibility in feeding and Love it, Like it, Learning it framework, and yet the question about how to handle more is still one that generates a lot of confusion.

Here are some tactics to try (based on my advice above):

  1. Make your decision in advance: Make/put out enough for one or two servings of a given food per person, so they don’t eat say five dinner rolls and call it a day. This gives them the freedom to eat more of preferred foods, but also helps them to learn that to feel more satisfied it will take eating from the variety of what’s offered. If they still want more after having seconds say, “I am glad you enjoyed the [love if food]! That is all I made of it tonight though. We can have it again another night, but right now, you can eat from what else is offered if you are still hungry.” Do not get up and make more of that given food though, if there is still food available to eat (if they are still truly hungry).

  2. If there is more available: Allow them to eat this preferred “love it” food freely. If they ask for seconds and more are available, let them have more. But first, teach them to make sure everyone has gotten some so they don’t eat the portion that’s intended for the rest of the family/group. If there is no more available (including for the reasons discussed above), then you may “cut them off.”

  3. If you know it’s a night when your child didn’t eat much, adjust accordingly. Remember that YOU can decide on what and when a bedtime snack. No one wants to wake up with a hangry kid in the middle of the night, so adjust as needed. Instead of making them something different at the given (majority) non-preferred meal, pre-set in your mind when and what will be a bedtime snack to help cover the gap. Don’t say, “we’re having this snack tonight because you didn’t eat your dinner,” (even if you usually don’t do bedtime snacks). Instead, confidently work this into your bedtime routine that night (the what and when of your role).


A Practical Example for “Forbidden Foods”

It is one thing when our kids fill up on the “love it” food of fruit at a meal. The concept of more can be conflicting though when it comes to foods like Goldfish crackers, cookies, or other perceived “forbidden foods” that kids love and parent usually feel unclear how to offer. To help bring the above advice to life in a practical example. This will help us to evaluate how to include these foods so that they are not forbidden, but rather incorporated into meals without your child existing on a diet of say, Goldfish or cookies alone.

In one example, you can offer Goldfish everyday for an afternoon snack. Served with nothing else, your child will likely want a fair share of these crunchy crackers to have their fill between meals. They also may be more likely to be seen as “snackers,” or kids who prefer snacks to meals. Do you know why? Because at snacks, they get their preferred or “love it foods,” but at snacks, it is made up of less-preferred “like it” and “learning it” food combinations like chicken, pasta, broccoli, and strawberries.

So what should you do?

Sticking with the example of Goldfish crackers (although it could be any “love it” food here), parents could be more mindful about their role in the feeding relationship while also allowing their child to become a more mindful eater as well.

You can offer Goldfish crackers a few times a week. Instead of offering them everyday, maybe send them in their lunchbox to school one day of the week, offer them alongside something that has fat, fiber, or protein at snack another day of the week (like cheese and carrots), and then give them the choice of those or another love it food for a snack to take along to a play date to share with friends. You child still got the desired exposure to this food so it doesn’t become elevated as a “forbidden” food you either never allow nor never allow them to have more of. But there are natural boundaries in place:

  • At school, they are offered as a competitive food that our children can get excited about eating around their classmates (who likely have them too). Put a portion into your child’s bento or reusable snack bag for them to enjoy. Since offered at school, there aren’t seconds available. But this allows you to offer this love it food in a way where we aren’t inclined to restrict the amount or pressure their intake of another food first.

  • At snack time, offering it alongside other foods helps offer a more well-rounded snack. Our children of course may still only eat the Goldfish and leave the other foods though. If they ask for seconds, let them have it. I know this sets off the siren for each of our nutrition police, but it is healthy for children, on occasion, to be exposed to an abundance of such preferred “love it” foods so that they can begin to exercise their own discernment over “how much” to eat (when they have the permission to eat intuitively). By not offering this food in this way everyday, it isn’t going to derail them nutritionally if on occasion, they eat “only Goldfish” (or a like less-nutritious option) for snack.

  • At a play date, let them choose between two preferred foods so they see both are an option without being something your family eats everyday. For whichever snack your child chooses, consider bringing individual bags (i.e. of Goldfish) so each child gets one. Or, bring a bag for all to share. Either way, this offers it to your child but also guides them in how much is theirs or needing to be shared among the group.

The goal here isn’t to use restrictive food parenting practices in hopes of getting our child to eat less of the preferred food that seems problematic. This almost always backfires and creates an increased interest in food for children, particularly the one that is being restricted. Instead, try to offer such “love it” foods as regular, routine parts of your child’s diet. Rotate through different options to keep a variety of preferred foods available (i.e. not “off limits”) and as an option as part of a healthy diet. Then, focus on your job of WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE those foods are offered to balance out how often they are being offered. When they are offered though, help your child to feel freedom towards such foods, rather than restricting them of seconds.


Final Remarks

Hopefully, it goes without saying that I value a balanced and nutritionally dense diet. But the variety that diet is made up of for your family is on you. If you are offering healthy variety and consistent eating opportunities to your child, they won’t go their whole lives eating exclusively Goldfish. Instead, they will learn, adapt, and become more competent eaters in the process. The more opportunities we give them to practice this, the sharper their abilities will become!

When kids push back (to your food parenting approach)

Some kids will take to how their family establishes a Division of Responsibility in feeding without an issue.

Particularly when parents start early, using this feeding style becomes much more seamless for both parent and child. That’s why nothing makes me happier than when parents find me while their child is still an infant and share sentiments like this one:

Ashley, I just am so impressed with all of your articles and emails - thorough, useful, organized, everything! I love reading them when I get a chance and find them all so interesting. I'm so happy to read them far BEFORE we get into this chapter so I can really think about how I hope to shape our family's relationship with mealtime. :)

- Liz B.

That’s because when kids are raised with an authoritative feeding style from the start (read more on what that is and isn’t here), it is all they know. Parents don’t have to spend time and energy “un-doing” the behaviors we want to avoid (see which ones here), but rather can instead invest that energy upfront to build a foundation for a healthy feeding relationship from day one.

In most families, however, parents don’t discover the best practices for feeding their children until they usually find themselves in some type of a feeding rut. Whether it is a child who’s apprehensive towards eating altogether or one who throws a fit anytime non-preferred foods are offered, I understand how taxing it is on families when the approach we might have initially used with our children didn’t work out and so we are trying to adopt another way.

Some children will go with the flow as you re-establish your family's feeding "rules." If you’re a parent to a child like this, consider yourself lucky and continue on course. In majority of families though, children will be reluctant to accept new ways of being fed and the learning it foods that come with such ways. That’s because after months or even years of being fed one way, the shift to accepting new roles and responsibilities in the feeding relationship is not always well received.

That’s why in this post, I am addressing how to cope when transitioning to a new food parenting approach.

Below, I share five ideas that will help get your child(ren) on board with this new feeding approach so that your whole family can come to experience less meal time stress and more feeding success.

These include:

  1. Communicate with your child

  2. Continue to offer family meal style

  3. Consider starting with all love it foods

  4. Food chain the familiar

  5. Emphasize scripts that avoid pressure

 
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Five ideas for how to cope when transitioning to a new food parenting approach

Communicate with your child

The first thing parents must remember is that these changes don’t happen overnight. While some families might choose to make an immediate transition to a Division of Responsibility in feeding, rarely will such families see all their feeding issues solved over night. That’s because as shared here, the Division of Responsibility in feeding is a best practice approach over time. This is not your get rich quick fix (if veggie consumption was our metric of money!), but rather the feeding approach that will lend to your child’s long term success in forming a healthy relationship with food and your family’s ticket to more peaceful meal times for the many, many meals to come.

To help your child and family as a whole in this transition, it can be helpful to talk about some of the new ways your family will be sharing in meals. Express your desire for enjoyable time together at the table and maybe even reflect on situations when such times didn’t exist. Be open about each of your roles in the feeding relationship now and how they will be shifting to reflect those more consistent with a Division of Responsibility in feeding. Without feeling the need to justify or defend this transition, consider sharing something like this (in whatever way your age of child might understand it best):

I don’t feel like our meal times have been very enjoyable for us, so we are going to start doing things a bit differently. From now on, it is going to be my job to decide what food is offered at meals and snacks, when our meals and snacks happen, and where we eat. Every time food is offered, you will get to decide if you want to eat it and how much you’d like from what’s available. We are going to start practicing this at dinner tonight but it might take some time for us to together adjust. I am excited about us having more pleasant meal times as a family. How does all of this sound to you?

While this might be beyond the comprehension level of younger children, you can tailor it as you see fit. The point to remember here is that you need to communicate with your kids so that the new boundaries and expectations are spelled out from the start. Even if your child seems too young to understand you initially, you will continue to reiterate your role versus theirs again, and again, and again over the coming years. So choosing to communicate it in a clear, concise, and consistent way from the start can give you scripts to go back to each time you are met with resistance (which you will be). Just as children need many reminders for other behavioral expectations to play nicely, wash their hands, and use their manners, they will need you to remind them about your family rules around this as well. So no matter how you articulate to them this type of transition, remember it is up to you to be decisive over this shift and to continue to reiterate it in a way that makes sense for your family.

Continue to offer family meal style

Some kids might not care that your pre-plate their food. For others, however, parents might see an obvious difference in their child’s response when they are given control over if/whether and how much of a given food goes on their plate.

For more insights on if this is an approach that might be effective for your family, read more on family meals here.

Consider starting with all love it foods.

Some parents might find more success initially by practicing a Division of Responsibility in feeding with predominantly love it foods at first. As your child gets used to your role versus theirs, it becomes easier to then broaden the menu and include more of a Love it, Like it, Learning it approach. The aim here is to practice positive, productive feeding behaviors with foods that are less of a fight (being love it foods). Then, as your child and family adjusts to your new feeding approach, you can gradually start expanding on what is offered to include more like it and learning it foods. Engage your child in this process and allow them to help you meal plan. This way, as you begin to include them more in family meals that you know aren’t made up of all of their favorite “love it” foods, they will take comfort (i.e. push back less) in knowing there is always going to be something they enjoy offered.

For sample meal planning templates to get started with, click here.

Food chain the familiar

One of the best ways to get more nutrition in your children even before they accept new “learning it” foods is by food chaining those foods that they are already familiar with. I show how to do this in each week of my Love it, Like it, Learning it e-course. Specifically in week four of this six week email course, I guide parents through food chaining their child’s familiar favorites in a way that gradually introduces new like it or learning it foods. The goal here is for parents to realize how they can take their child’s “staple meal” (even if it’s mac and cheese!) and turn it into a nutrient-dense, family-friendly meal that’s full of variety and for everyone at the table to enjoy.

You can sign up for my six-week e-course here.

Emphasize scripts that avoid pressure

For many parent and child pairs in the feeding relationship, words have historically been used in ways to pressure and force feed kids into eating less of their love it foods and more of their learning it foods (more on this to come over the next two weeks) or to argue with one’s parents over the types or manner in which food is offered. That’s why circling back to the first tip in this post, we need to practice what language we should use moving forward AND which language we now need to avoid.

Many of the phrases we might have become accustomed to using are no longer appropriate in a Division of Responsibility in feeding. Even if we as the parents are taking charge of what, when, and where eating opportunities happen, too often we hang onto the scripts that made us unsuccessful to begin with. This makes our kids unclear on how we are really going to react at meals when they push back. While this kind of testing is normal for kids (including in non-food related areas of life), it also tests our resolve to more fully put into practice a Division of Responsibility. For this reason, we need to be able to reiterate to our children the new dynamics of our feeding relationship. Without getting into a butting of heads or a battle at the table, we can remind them of the meal (and snack) time boundaries using clear, considerate language. While our kids won’t necessarily like how consistently we respond each time they resist our food parenting approach, the food-related battles begin to dissipate when parents can speak confidently to their child’s push back.

This is why each week in my Love it, Like it, Learning it e-course, I provide sample scripts to accompany the weekly action item families are asked to implement. I want parents to have clear, concise scripts they can use with their children on a day to day basis that help both parents and children to be more confident ad calm in the feeding relationship. To sign up and get weekly access to these scripts, visit my Love it, Like it, Learning it e-course.



Take heart

I have been at this approach with my own family for over four years now and we still face push back on occasion. That is just part of parenting - be it relating to food, discipline, limits on screen time, or doing things differently than our children would like. At different ages and stages and with the varying temperament of each child in a family, feeding with an authoritative approach can be more or less challenging. The key here is to remain both confident and consistent.

You are doing a great job. Just take a deep breath, go as slow as you need, and know that a pleasant meal where nothing gets eaten is often more successful in the big picture than a clean plate achieved in conflict. Over the next couple of weeks, I will walk you through how to handle when your child only eats love it foods and how to better engage them with learning it foods (without force). You won’t want to miss these follow up topics to today’s post, so be sure you are subscribed to my newsletter so you get these in your inbox as soon as they’re live!

Serving Family Style Meals

When parents begin the transition to a more authoritative approach to feeding, like the Division of Responsibility in feeding, I repeatedly hear of struggles similar to this one:

We've been following the division of labor and like it, love it, learning it philosophies (mostly) since our first meal plan with you and while we've had some improvements (mostly just cooking one meal), he has yet to try a single learning it food with the exception of strawberries. he will not ever put a learning food on his plate and if i dish some on plate before serving he will freak out until i remove it from plate. We had the butternut squash chili the other night - which was delicious - and i had to remove his bowl completely from table. So i guess its not much of a question - just please reassure me it will get better!

Parents are trying to practice their role in the feeding relationship, avoid counter-productive feeding behaviors (that might have previously been used like these), and serve a variety of foods that their child both loves and is still learning. But the push back can make it difficult to see progress.

For some children, having meals pre-plated brings about a negative reaction as soon as the food is brought over to the table. Instead of it being an enjoyable, invitation to eat from what’s offered, kids sense that their plate comes with an expectation to eat. Pair this feeling of unspoken pressure with kid’s reactions that, “I don’t like this!” or “I don’t want my food is touching!” and children’s interest in the meal often goes away before the meal ever even started.

So how do we handle this as parents?

First, we can establish regular family style meals.

As quoted from one of my favorite books on how to handle picky eating,

“Serving family style meals is the number one thing parents say defuses battles at the table.”
“Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating” by Dr. Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin

I couldn’t agree more!

In areas where we might have thought controlling what’s on our children’s plate was productive , negotiating what’s eaten was effective, or restricting the amounts of preferred foods our children are allowed to help themselves to was beneficial, we know that many dietitians and researchers agree there is value in considering how family style meals may act as a family’s tipping point to establishing a more positive feeding environment.

That’s why in this post, we will take a high level overview of:

  • What is a family style meal

  • How to set-up a family-style meal

  • Arguments against family style meals

  • Aims for the family style meal

 
 
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What is a family style meal

Much could be said on the benefits of family meals here, however for the purposes of this post, we are discussing family-style meals. Family style meals are when instead of pre-serving our children’s meals onto plates, we set each of the elements of the meal in the middle of the table (or counter or shared space) and let our kids serve themselves.

How to set-up a family style meal

Logistically, family-style meals can be done a variety of ways. From as extravagant as a holiday dinner and your best dishes to as simple as a carpet picnic eating pizza with paper plates, the family-style meals can be as (in)formal as fits your family or the situation. Some aspects that help any family-style meal be more successful include:

  • Work with your child’s age: Parents often ask how early they can begin serving family-style. My answer is, immediately! From infancy, children can sit at the table and begin participating in the family meal. Although I usually don’t recommend children younger than three or four pass dishes around the table (without practicing on empty bowls and with plastic dishes first!), children as young as two are eager for this type of independence. Help serving them from central dishes early on, and then as their skills and coordination allows, let them to self-serve. Gradually, you can begin to also pass the dishes around the table as well.

  • Use kid-safe serving dishes: You want children to be able to pass the dishes (if able) or at least to be able to serve themselves safely. So pans that are still hot or dishes that are about to dump out the elements within are best avoided. Instead, use lightweight dishes your children can begin to practice passing around the table. Choose fun scoops, spoons, and tongs that invite your child’s fine motor skills to be refined. This will further foster their independence of self-serving the foods being offered without frustrating them with kitchen utensils or dishes that they aren’t able to be successful with.

  • Serve at a shared space: While many families may have a table that can seat their whole family, you can offer meals family style in a variety of places. Pull stools up to the counter, gather around a coffee table and eat on the floor, join your child at their smaller kid’s table, or put out a picnic and eat together on the ground. While some of these may not be sustainable for every family-style meal, including a variety of places for serving meals this way can make mealtimes extra fun.

Arguments against family style meals

I have shared about family-style meals often on my Instagram and in my Instagram stories. Often times, I get questions from fellow moms about if/how it works out (or doesn’t!) for their family. Here are some common challenges that seem to come up:

It diffuses the battles for sure. But my picky eaters always tend to pick the same foods (fruit, bread, etc) so I wonder if it's still worth doing if they don't really try anything new. Know what I mean?

Yes! I know what this mom means. Some ideas for encouraging your child to eat more variety from meals offered in this way include:

  • Encourage them to take a small amount of everything (think one teaspoon/bite or less), even if they don’t eat it. This might take time (if they resist it even on their plate initially), but remember that even accepting a non-preferred "learning it food" on their plates is a sign of progress! For children who aren’t willing to put all the foods on their plates, consider a “tasting plate,” which is a separate dish for any learning it foods your child is not yet comfortable having on their own plate.

  • Once the learning it foods are on their plate (or a “tasting plate”), you can help to guide them in learning to like new foods (without pressure or force). Consider these Three Frustration-Free Ways to Offer Vegetables.

  • For the known love it foods that they seem to load up on, family meals can be a great way to show them how much is available for the family. Some parents are tempted to restrict the amount of a given preferred food at a meal when it is all their child eats, particularly if the meal is pre-plated. When served family style, however, children see if more is available or not while also learning the manners to ask for more (see below).

They don’t work for us because my kids fight over the bowls they both like - so for instance here both would want ALL the cheese and whoever got to it first would empty it no matter how full and the second would be upset. Not to mention they just pretty much empty every bowl they touch whether they have any intention of eating it or not. Ages almost 4 and almost 2. Much less fighting when I just portion things out individually for us 🤷🏻‍♀️

I totally get this mom’s struggle! The cheese is almost always the first to go in my family to. With a 2 and 4 year old myself, some strategies we use to help with this include:

  • Decide that everyone can only have one helping to start until everyone else has had a chance to get some. This reminds every member of the family to be considerate of others and to pass each food before having more. This takes reinforcing, but becomes an easier to accept boundary with practice.

  • When children want to serve more than they’ll eat, remind them to only take a little for themselves as they can always come back for more. Then consider letting them serve your plate (and thus an adult portion). This fulfills their desire to serve larger portions than they’ll eat without it being wasteful.

  • Remember that family-style meals are a great time to emphasize manners, like passing dishes to one another and asking others if they want more of something before finishing it yourself. The earlier your children learn these things in the comfort of their own home and among family, the better prepared they’ll be to participate in mealtimes with others as they get older.

Do you make them spoon out something from everything you serve? Mine has told me he doesn’t want that before and doesn’t want to serve himself something like beans. I have noticed he serves himself up a larger amount of fruit when he gets to do it himself which is something I usually add to a meal to offer something I know he likes.

It sounds like mom is doing a great job offering both preferred and non-preferred foods at family-style meals. The struggle with the child taking too much of a preferred food and none of a non-preferred food is a common one, as we’ve addressed already. That’s why I do advise to let children self serve each element, but guide them as they learn the expectations in doing so. For example, if they’re going to take the whole amount of fruit for the table, remind them what is appropriate and expected. If they refuse to take any of a new food, don’t turn the feeding environment into a negative one by getting in a power struggle with them. Instead, use some consistent scripts for what you expect that can be reiterated (as needed) at every meal:

  • "Please put a little bit of everything on your plate."

  • “It is okay if you are still learning to like ____________. You don’t have to eat it.”

  • "Please pass the ________."

  • “Only take one serving to start. You can always get more once everyone else has had the chance to have some.”

  • “Would anyone like more of the ________, or may I have it?”

  • "May I be excused?"

I find I need to do a balance of family style and pre-plated. My boys really enjoy family style for the independence it gives them but they are more likely to try new things when they are already on their plates and I tell them they don’t have to eat them if they don’t want to.

I love how this mom has found a system that works for her family! Due to the hustle of the dinner hour, after school activities, getting home late from work, or having a spouse who you wait and eat later with (thus feeding the kids earlier), there are so many reasons why family-style meals aren’t always feasible. Add that to some kids not taking to family meals as well as others, and there is good reason to use them in your family in whatever way works.

That might be to include them on occasion when you feel that feeding is becoming a power struggle or your family is in a bit of a mealtime rut. These can help bring back some age-appropriate independence and offer a novel way to liven up meals again. If, however, you see that your child responds better with meals pre-plated, just make sure it isn’t because other tactics are also being used to pressure, force, or bribe more being eaten. This mom has found a great balance of feeding meals both family-style and pre-plated in a pressure-free way!

Aims for the family style meal

Remember that the main aim of family-style meals is not necessarily to get our children to eat more. While we all want to see that our efforts to provide healthy meals to our family are recognized in this way, other positive outcomes often occur prior to our children eating less.

Here are some remarks (emphasis added) other moms shared about offering meals family-style:

Family style has been really helpful for us. My 3 YO likes the power of choosing, and I like her at least passing and seeing various foods. As often as possible, i get her to put the foods out in their dishes too, so she interacts with all of them. Thanks for this idea!

When we serve family style, we encourage putting a little of everything on your plate. Not necessarily eating it, but at least one bite of most items go on the plate. But she chooses how much of each which helps her feel in control more.

We did this a couple of days ago (thanks to your suggestion), and it worked really well! My girls ate more than usual, and it was stuff they normally don’t eat a lot of, if at all. I need to remember to do it more often!

Resources to Help

If you aren’t already a member of my community, subscribe to my newsletter as there will be many more posts in the coming months on what to do when your child pushes back to your positive, pressure-free feeding style, helping our children learn to like new foods, and how to handle it when they only eat love it foods!

Additionally, if you want some family-friendly meal ideas to begin offering as family-style meals, check out my seasonal meal plan. It includes a variety of healthy, balanced main entrees, vegetables, and starches to prepare and begin practicing family-style meals with.

I share six other simple meal ideas that can be used for family-style meals in my Love it, Like it, Learning it E-Course. In addition to the menu idea itself, I share sample scripts for what you can say to continue to create less meal time stress and more feeding success. Learn more about it here.


Next Steps

If family style meals stress you out amidst the chaos of dinner time, try to find even one meal a week where you let your little ones serve themselves. Observe how each you and your child respond to meals being offered in this way and if/how it helps to achieve less meal time stress and more feeding success. You should find that this small step can help to encourage independence, release some control/power struggles between parent+child, and empower our kids to choose variety in a way that feels natural and free instead of restricted and forced.

Do you do family style meals? I’d love to hear, so tag me @veggiesandvirtue when you share a pic of your child’s plate or family table!

Why it’s important to offer preferred AND non-preferred foods

Say you didn't read any of the information shared on last week's blog post, and you find yourself scolding your child, “You will eat this, or else!”

...or else, what?

Many new parents start out with eager little eaters who they assume will enjoy or at least try every food that they’re offered. Then, usually somewhere between 12-24 months, their child's preferences start to present more and parents find themselves offering foods as they did before, except this time they aren’t met with the same level of excitement and acceptance.

Instead, their child becomes oppositional. They may fight us for something us specific, avoid anything unfamiliar, or just flat out refuse this seemingly offensive meal we offered them.

If it is only one night of this kind of behaviors, parents would likely handle whatever happens without much stress or shame over if/whether their child went without the meal. However, when parents see this kind of food refusal meal after meal, day after day, I don’t know many families who can maintain a Division of Responsibility in feeding long term.

Often times, when we are faced with ongoing opposition at meals and snacks, bad habits and unintended feeding behaviors start to resurface. Even if you did read my article on parental feeding behaviors last week and have worked hard to establish a Division of Responsibility in your home, we can still hit a bit of a wall when it comes to how to handle the cycle of food refusal and constant force to get our children to eat.

So what is a parent to do?

While we don’t want to cater to our kids selectivity and only offer them foods we know they will eat, many parents wonder what that balance is between offering preferred versus non-preferred foods.

 
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That's what this week's blog post is all about.

In this post, I will answer one mom's question:

"So wondering why it’s important to offer preferred and non preferred foods and not just non preferred foods and ya snooze ya lose?!"

I will also share my simple strategy for how the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework can accomplish the Division of Responsibility without all the stress of what to offer an oppositional child while still making only one meal.


Many parents think that if they offer a preferred food alongside a non-preferred “learning it” food that their child won’t eat the learning it food.

And you know what? That is more often than not the case.

Let’s dissect this a bit though to evaluate what alternatives options we have in the types of foods we offer at a given meal. We could offer only preferred “love it” foods (so these “learning it foods” don’t go uneaten anyways), offer only non-preferred “learning it” foods (and restrict preferred foods while forcing non-preferred foods), or offer a variety of love it, like it, and learning it foods (and strike a balance between the two).

Let’s evaluate how each of these scenarios usually play out, particularly with apprehensive eaters.

 

What happens when we offer only love it foods

This can create a dynamic that is difficult to break. Children grow to expect caregivers to overly cater to their wants and short order cook (or rather make two separate meals). Usually this starts because a parent just want to make meal times less stressful and not have to face fighting or forcing their child to eat from what’s offered. Instead of using an authoritative approach (like the Division of Responsibility), they indulge their child in their every request. Often times, parents hope that if they cater to the more particular child, their feeding issues will go away (at least in the short term). Unfortunately, more often than not parents end up facing the impact of innocently deciding to initially cater to their child’s requests (of “love it” only foods) only to later find themselves stuck with a child who won’t eat anything else they offer (i.e. “like it” or “learning it” foods).

Beyond having let the child decide what is offered (the parent’s job), the entire feeding dynamic has shifted to one with loose boundaries and unclear roles and responsibilities. Neither parent nor child are thriving when meals are offered this way. Rather, parents tend to exhaust from always having to make a separate meal and children become increasingly picky in their food preferences because they are rarely given regular opportunities to learn to like new foods. As addressed in this post, the long term repercussions of offering meals this way leads to compounded stress for the parent, longstanding nutritional deficits for the child, and a backwards feeding relationship between both parent and child.

 

What happens when we offer only learning it foods

Alternatively to the above, some parents assume that if a child truly is hungry, they’ll just eat what is in front of them with a “ya snooze ya lose” type attitude (as this mom called it).

I admit, this is kind of how I pictured I would feed my kids. I knew what kinds of foods that I wanted in their diets and was pretty set on providing meal plans to include such variety, vegetables, as well as very few “filler foods” (void of much or any nutritional value). Since I was well-versed in the Division of Responsibility in feeding, I assumed I could carry out the behaviors that went along with this best practice without much struggle.

Then I actually had a child of my own.

Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

I often say God apparently knew the amount of pride I had in being a parentless pediatric dietitian because it was all called out with my first kid. I implemented the Division of Responsibility from day one with her, well aware it was the gold standard approach for raising healthy eaters. What I couldn’t figure out though from my role and responsibility was the “what to feed.”

Everything I offered her by 13 months went untouched. She would literally hold out on snacks on Sunday mornings until Sunday school where she knew she’d get Goldfish crackers. Her cutesy lunchboxes came back untouched from school. She started refusing family meals in the evenings, and then would wake up overnight screaming because she was hungry.

And y’all, I was crushed.

I was a pediatric dietitian and I couldn’t get my own kid to eat.

That’s because when we serve only non-preferred foods (“learning it foods”), it becomes difficult to “get” our children to eat while also fostering a “no pressure” feeding environment (that’s reflective of a Division of Responsibility). When we offer them only foods that they knowingly are still learning to like, many kids won’t feel comfortable enough to try anything. Such neophobia towards new foods and anxiety around eating shuts down a child’s appetite. This often leaves children sitting at the table with an untouched plate, fighting us to be excused prematurely and a parent who’s tempted to use force, bribery, or other behaviors we want to avoid.

This all backfires in the big picture.

For one, it doesn’t reinforce to our child that we will always keep them in mind when planning meals. It is important for children, particularly those with more extreme forms of picky eating, to know that there will always be something they enjoy at the meal. If they think meals are planned independently of them and their unique food preferences, it becomes more challenging to get them to even join in on the family meal. Some children may revolt (to which parents might give in) while other children might shut down (to which parents might give up). Either way, our choices over what to offer our family doesn’t reinforce the type of positive, productive feeding relationship we want and are attempting to establish in the first place.

That’s why I developed the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework.

 

What happens when we offer love it, like it, and learning it foods

Love it, Like it, Learning it is a simple, roll off the tongue type of strategy that translates what researches already advises but many parents miss: the importance of pairing preferred with non-preferred foods.

As fellow pediatric dietitians often say, “eating begets eating.” Feeding experts and resources like the book, “Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating,” share that the anxiety a child feels towards eating can keep children from eating altogether (affiliate link).

This is why offering safe, preferred “love it” foods alongside sometimes consumed “like it” and non-preferred “learning it” foods reduces the fear and eases the anxiety that often comes with the introduction of new foods. Familiar foods can also serve as a tool to elicit interest in new foods and combinations like chips (love it food) with guacamole (learning it food), yogurt (love it food) with granola (learning it food), or crackers (love it food) with tuna salad.

Using the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework reinforces a few key concepts that build trust and foster choice in the feeding relationship.

One, serving meals with this framework reminds your child that there will always be something offered that they enjoy. While it does not guarantee every meal in its entirety is something the child will love, it recognizes their apprehension towards new foods and fosters a feeding environment that gives them both the time and the space to learn to like such foods.

Second, offering foods with this framework sets clearer expectations for your child. They learn to trust you to not only provide options they prefer alongside others they don’t (yet), as well as trusting you to use pressure-free feeding tactics around new foods. This helps decrease their anxiety around new foods so that over time, they begin to open up to learning to like them.

Additionally, offering foods in this way allows parents to take their job back. By being in charge of the meal planning and what foods are offered, parents using this framework can begin to make one meal for their whole family again. While some find it does take a bit more advanced planning than winging each meal that is offered, parents who have applied this framework share that the effort put in pays off in lessening meal time stress and improving their child’s feeding success. One mom shared,

“Love it, Like it, Learning it is a game changer. There are less meltdowns at mealtimes for all of us.”


Next Steps to Offering Preferred + Non-Preferred Foods

Some next steps that parents might find helpful when thinking through this framework and figuring out how to effectively plan meals using this framework include:

  1. Start out by having a good sense of what your child’s preferred foods even are. While the list may initially be very limited, you can still begin to use this practice with other productive feeding behaviors to gradually help your child accept more new foods and ultimately eat greater variety. You can get a read through the Beginner’s Guide to Love it, Like it, Learning it with a free download here. Or,  for more helpful tools and templates to use when applying this framework, you can purchase the complete Love it, Like it, Learning it Starter Kit here.

  2. Consider meal planning. This will help you to think through in advance the types of preferred and non-preferred foods you will offer at any given meal during the week. This will help you to plan only one meal for the whole family while also remaining consistent in your approach (to avoid short-order cooking). You can download meal planning templates including ones for Love it, Like it, Learning it here.

  3. Cycle through meals that work. Once you have a handful or more ideas for family meals you can offer that include the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework, begin to cycle through those on repeat. Work on becoming more comfortable in how you present foods and creating a pressure-free environment before trying to branch out too much and include too many new meal ideas. This will give both you and your family time to adjust to this framework so it can be as effective as possible. You can use one week or the complete month’s worth of meal ideas from my Seasonal Meal Plan to rotate through as you familiarize yourself with how to offer meals in this way.

  4. Share! I always love seeing how the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework is helping families achieve less meal time stress and more feeding success. Please make sure to tag @veggiesandvirtue on social media and use hashtag #loveitlikeitlearningit to share your mealtime success stories!

  5. Seek Support, as needed. If you find yourself wanting someone to walk you through the steps of adopting the Love it, Like it, Learning it framework at meal times, I can help. Many families have found it helpful to have me walk them through this framework. See below for more on my six week E-course (coming soon).

Parent Feeding Styles

Welcome to 2019!

Now over a week in and I feel like the New Year is officially in full swing. I know as moms, many of may have goals for the upcoming year about how we hope to feed ourselves or focus on our own health, fitness, and well-being. These are honorable and often ambitious intentions to set at the start of the year, especially amidst the realities, strains, and stresses that come with motherhood. Even if we lose steam on some and have to re-evaluate others a few months from now, it is important for us to recognize:

We have the potential to create positive OR negative norms every day of the year in how we talk about, embrace, and/or enforce our relationships with food.

Have you considered that? The new year’s resolutions you might be setting for yourself may also significantly impact the extent that your family enjoys food, finds exercise to feel good, and practices a healthy body image (or doesn’t) in the New Year? As moms, we are constantly shaping our children’s perceptions and experiences with eating, exercising, and their overall health through how we speak to these areas in our own lives. We think that we can separate “our issues” with food, dieting, exercise, and body image from how we feed our child(ren), pour into their development, encourage their love of activity, and foster a strong self-confidence. But the reality is, when New Years roll around, so many of the scars or struggles we as moms have surrounding food become shared with our kids as well.

I see so many moms use the New Year as an excuse for a “new you,” instead of it being just another day and another opportunity for us as women to better understand our own relationships with food, health, and wellness so that we can continue to move forward. We are feeding ourselves and our families day in, day out and the New Year doesn’t change that. What will, however, is if we see the new year as a new opportunity to evaluate whether or not we are shaping our own and our children’s eating habits in the most productive ways possible.

That’s why in this post, I want to start the New Year off by evaluating our feeding styles and addressing why our approaches to food parenting are often the foundation for success (or stress) with food in the upcoming year.

 
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Here’s what you can expect from this post:

  1. Reflecting: Considerations Every Parent Should Ask Themselves About Feeding

  2. Reviewing: A Look at Different Feeding Styles and Food Parenting Approaches

  3. Responding: How to Move Forward with a Healthy Food Parenting Approach


Feeding Styles: How We Food Parent and Why it Matters

Reflecting: Questions Every Parent Should Ask Themselves About Feeding

First, have you ever evaluated how you as a parent relate to food? In our current dichotomy of a diet culture versus intuitive eating food environment, some may know of this as what stretches far beyond just our “eating habits” (since those can change often, specially in seasons like right now/post-New Year).

Instead, just like any other relationship in our lives, our relationships with food can be nourishing or negative to our overall health. Ellyn Satter explains what a joy of eating (in our relationships with food) to be:

… positive, comfortable, and flexible with eating as well as matter-of-fact and reliable about getting enough to eat of enjoyable food. Even though they don’t worry about what and how much to eat, competent eaters do better nutritionally, are more active, sleep better, and have better lab tests. They are more self-aware and self-accepting, not only with food, but in all ways. To be a competent eater, be relaxed, self-trusting, and joyful about eating, and take good care of yourself with food.

In many families, one parent was raised to relate with food in one way and the other parent a different way. While this can create some conflict in how we are naturally inclined to feed our children (more on that to come), it is critical to hone in on how the approaches we were raised with shaped our own relationships with food, our body, and the way we self-regulate our diet and exercise:

Is chronic dieting something you and your spouse have always struggled with? Or, are you someone who has always felt comfortable in your own body shape and size?

Do you or your spouse tend to use food as a reward or overly restrict it? Or, are you able to enjoy a wide variety of food (including indulgences over the holidays!) without feeling guilt, shame, or a feeling of having “cheated” on your diet?

Do you or your spouse tend to overeat or allow the sign of a clean plate be your gauge for when to stop? Or, are you someone who is mindful about what you put in your mouth and empowered to stop whenever you feel satisfied?

Growing up, were family meals erratic and unpleasant in your family? Or, do you have fond memories of the time your family spent in the kitchen and around the table?

Thinking through the range of ways we relate with food as parents can be a valuable and preliminary process to developing a feeding style that works for our families. That’s because we begin to identify areas in our own feeding relationships that we wish were different. For example, in the above questions, many of us probably read at least one of the latter statements and thought, “Hmmm, that must be nice!” as if it was not even an option for us.

Part of the reason for that is because of how we were raised to relate with food. Just as there are many ways for us to parent our children, there are just as many ways for us to food parent our children as well. We see the repercussions of this in ourselves and how we feel about our own bodies, eating and exercise habits, and overall feelings towards food. The same will be true for our own kids too someday in how they feel about their bodies, eating and exercise habits, and overall feelings towards food. That’s why I am deeply passionate not just about the foods we feed our kids now, but maybe even more so the behaviors that accompany them.

I encourage parents to reflect on their own relationships with food. Some productive ways to begin this process might be working with a Registered Dietitian or reading resources to help reframe how you relate with food (like this one). As parents begin to talk through their own experiences with food and identify some of their innate approaches to feeding, parents can:

  1. Identify what your current approach to feeding is.

  2. Ask yourself, “What is your goal is in wanting your child to eat what is offered?”

  3. List out your answers to, “What are your biggest frustrations in feeding your child?” 

These questions, discussed more in the article link below, might help parents to begin to address their starting place while also mapping out some of their hopes for how they want to re-establish new norms in the way they feed both themselves and their families.


Reviewing: A Look at Feeding Styles and Food Parenting Approaches

So why does how we relate to food as parents matter? It matters because for most of us, we come into parenting with some preset opinions on how we will handle things from everyday basics like sleep and car seat safety to more personal preferences like cloth or disposable diapering and putting our children in preschool or homeschooling them in those early years. We also enter parenthood with some preset opinions and often expectations of how we will feed our families. These preconceived feeding styles are often similar to the more general ways we remember our parents feeding us as kids. The challenge is that as parents now ourselves, we see there are so many seemingly small behaviors that make up our overall approaches to feeding. While each behavior might seem insignificant to the overall feeding style we want to use, they often create a slippery slope that leads to more meal time stress and less feeding success.

If as children, we were raised to be competent eaters ourselves or have since practiced intuitive eating in our adult lives, then that default we often drift back to in how we feed our children might not be that bad (particularly if our children are adventurous eaters to begin with). However, in majority of families and particularly in those who have struggled with picky eating, the way we feed our families and establish one’s relationship with food is not necessarily a natural, positive, nor productive path. That’s why we need to consider how certain behaviors in our feeding styles impact our children and often, leave them learning to relate with food in whatever ways we do - for better or worse.

In this article, researchers summarize that there are two different types of parental feeding strategies presented in the literature: feeding styles and food parenting:

The difference between the two is that feeding styles describe the more general parent-child interactions across food-related situations whereas food parenting practices include specific behaviors or rules parents use to control what, how much, or when their child eats, through, for example, pressure to eat vegetables, restricting foods, using foods as a reward or making foods available and accessible

In general, parenting styles are categorized based off of one’s demandingness and responsiveness. The same dimensions are used when evaluating the sub-category of one’s feeding style. Alternatively, one’s food parenting practices or feeding practices (referenced here) are considered, “specific goal-directed behaviors used by parents to directly influence their children's eating.” For the purpose of this post, we are going to summarize the most common feeding styles while also highlighting which feeding practices play into each.


Researchers often group parents into one of four feeding styles based on their parenting styles (source). These are:

  1. Authoritative: high demanding, high responsive = The “Division of Responsibility” parent

    ATTITUDE: Parent is responsive to the child, puts structure and boundaries around meal time, and shows respect for the child’s food choices

    APPROACH: Parent uses the tactics of trust and choice

    EXAMPLE: Parent actively encourages child to eat when food is offered and explains the rules around the food offered, as needed, in sensitive, supportive ways.

    EFFECT: Child tends to have a healthy weight, be good at self-regulating their own eating, and to make healthier food choices

  2. Authoritarian: high demanding, low responsive = The “Clean your plate” parent

    ATTITUDE: Parent tends to be show little trust in their child’s food preferences or hunger/fullness signals

    APPROACH: Parent uses control and tactics like rewards, restricts, pressures, and prompts to get their children to eat a certain food or amount

    EXAMPLE: Parent requires child to eat certain foods and/or amounts. The rules around the foods offered are not responsive to a child’s hunger, fullness, or food preferences but rather parent-centered rules. This might look like a parent requiring their child to clean their plate before being able to be excused or take a specific number of bites before being allowed to have dessert.

    EFFECT: Child tends to have poor appetite regulation and be less likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Most linked to overweight and obesity.

  3. Indulgent (also known as permissive): low demanding and high responsive = The “Yes” parent

    ATTITUDE: Parent tends to allow their child to eat anything, anytime

    APPROACH: Parent uses tactics like short-order cooking or allowing child to graze all day so that child will eat.

    EXAMPLE: Parent allows child to decide the what, when, and where they eat in order to encourage eating with very few rules around it. This might look like the parent who tends to ask make whatever their child asks for at a given meal or snack on a regular, reoccuring basis, allows their child to help themselves to any and all snack foods at any time of day, or overly caters to a child’s food preferences so much so that the child is unable to eat from or accept a meal made for their family at large.

    EFFECT: Child tends to gain too much weight and be out of touch with what foods and how much of each to eat. Most linked with high intake of sweets and high fat foods.

  4. Uninvolved (also known as neglectful): low demanding, low responsive = The “fly by the seat of their pants” parent

    ATTITUDE: Parent shows low sensitivity to their child’s needs around food/eating

    APPROACH: Parent fails to plan and prepare food in a regular, reliable manner

    EXAMPLE: Parent doesn’t make demands on their child to eat but also doesn’t have meal time routines or responsibilities in place to provide support for child’s needs. This might look like the parent who has erratic and unpredictable patterns in things like grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal preparations and considers food and feeding very low priority (relative to other priorities).

    EFFECT: Child tends to be pre-occupied with food, worrying or anxious about it causing them to over or under eat. May have trust issues with caregiver.

The above food parenting styles and practices are further summarized in the literature in studies like here and here, as well as trusted pediatric nutrition resources like Fearless Feeding (affiliate link). By reviewing these over-arching definitions of food parenting types, parents can begin to better understand which camp they most often fall into and how such habitual behaviors in the feeding relationship might impact their child’s diet and overall health.


Responding: How to Move Forward with a Healthy Food Parenting Approach

In parenting, there are a lot of gray areas that our children’s will likely come out of well no matter what we do. For the examples above, whether we:

Sleep trained our children or not

Kept our children rear-facing until four or not

Used clothe diapers or not

Home-schooled our children before kindergarten or not

These are preferences that do shape our children’s upbringing. But the reality is, if you sit with your adult child thirty years from now, none of these will still have the same lasting impact on them that the way how you fed them will. Before anyone emails me arguing different, let me acknowledge that yes, these choices we make for our families can absolutely shape future habits for sleep, safety, environmental mindfulness, and academics. I am not trying to dismiss that. My point is that food and it’s repeated presence in our lives is something that we are shaping every day of the year in our kids. Not just right after New Years.

Be it in obesity prevention and the prevention of eating disorders, we as parents must be mindful of how to raise children who have an innate sense of how to live healthy lifestyles. Our goal here is not on weight alone, nor is it on creating such an obsession to health that the opposite effect occurs. Instead, our aim in how we raise our kids to relate with food, however similar or different from ours, should be rooted in the long term impacts we want for them.

Of course, we want them to have healthy, balanced diets in the short term. But the reality is that if we use (or avoid) the above behaviors appropriately and adopt an evidenced-based food parenting approach effectively, and our child still never eats a stalk of broccoli before they’re seven, it is okay.

That’s because in these early years when we begin to shift how we feed, we are setting that foundation for how our kids relate with food for their whole lives. These are the habits they can only wish, “Hmmmm, I wish I had that” later on in life when they themselves are parents. Or, they can be the example in their adult lives of someone whom their family and friends see as being genuinely healthy, mindful, and confident around food and their overall health.

This is where the Division of Responsibility comes in.

If you have spent any time following me or checking out my Start Here page, you know I believe this feeding foundation is one of the best starting places for setting up a feeding environment with less meal time stress and more feeding success. Beyond just the basics of a parent’s role and a child’s role in the feeding relationship though, I want to highlight how some of the behaviors highlighted in the parent feeding styles above are to be used, avoided, or in need of further consideration.

Food Parenting Behaviors

The following behaviors were selected from a list of constructs researched in the article, “Fundamental constructs in food parenting practices: a content map to guide future research.”

Behaviors to Practice:

  • Trust: Practice trusting your child to choose and control their own intake based on their unique biological needs, while also teaching them to trust themselves to eat according to their own hunger and fullness cues. Show your child that they can trust you to provide regular meals and snacks, at predictable times and places, with a variety of foods that they both enjoy and are learning to like, and using a consistent feeding approach. This teaches your child to trust their own ability to self-regulate and makes for a healthy and reciprocal feeding relationship.

  • Limited or Guided Choice: Give your child age-appropriate limits on the options of foods offered to them. Allow them the choice of if/whether and how much they eat from such foods in a way that represents a sharing of control and decision making between you and them. This gives them an appropriate amount of control without giving them more freedom than they know how to handle at a young age.

  • Routine: Offer meals and snacks at routine times and locations in the presence of others and the absence of distractions (like books, toys, TV, tablets, etc.). This kind of structure prevents grazing and allows safe, predictable, and intentional eating opportunities that your child will learn to thrive within.

  • Modeling: Demonstrate a healthy relationship with food in your food choices and eating behaviors. This will encourage your child to mimic such behaviors from a young age through adolescence and into adulthood.

  • Food Availability: Make different types and amounts of foods available to your child. This helps them to understand when more food is available (instead of being unnecessarily restricted).

  • Food Accessibility: Give your child access to a variety of foods your child loves, likes, and is still learning. Make both healthy options and occasional preferred, less healthful foods available as well. This allows your child to eat a well-balanced diet.

  • Food Prep: Practice preparing and cooking meals in a manner that allows for simple and yet healthy, balanced meals and snacks.

  • Child Involvement: Involve your child during meal planning, grocery shopping, meal preparation, and mealtimes. This passed down family norms and traditions while also providing your child with an opportunity to become more familiar with new foods.

Behaviors to Avoid:

The following definitions were summarized from a list of construct definitions provided in the article, “Fundamental constructs in food parenting practices: a content map to guide future research.”

  • Unstructured Practices: Don’t use practices that provide no oversight, guidance, or direction, or allow for children to make inappropriate eating decisions. Such behaviors as grazing and overly catering to your child’s demands with behaviors like short-order cooking can result in a lower quality diet and children not seeing a healthy lifestyle.

  • Restriction: Don’t enforce strict limitations on your child’s access to foods or opportunities to consume those foods. This is usually done to control child’s intake of unhealthy foods but instead, it can create an increased interest or obsession with such foods and greater tendency to overeat for the child.

  • Pressure: Don’t insist, demand, or physically struggle with your child in order to get the child to eat more food. This interferes with your child’s intrinsic ability to self-regulate what and how much they eat.

  • Threats or bribes: Don’t threaten to take/takes something away for misbehavior or promises/offer rewards for something to your child in return for a desired behavior. This form of behavior management can undermine internal forms of motivation for your child to eat healthy foods and instead increase preference for the food used as a reward.

  • Using food to control negative emotions: Don’t use food to manage or calm your child when he/she is upset, fussy, angry, hurt, or bored. This can create habits of emotional eating long term.

Behaviors to Use with Caution:

There is research to both support or counter the arguments for each of the following behaviors. More research is needed to clearly outline if and how these behaviors can best be used to support healthy eating habits in children.

  • Monitoring: Be aware of how your child’s growth and development tracks for their age and monitor if and what foods or behaviors best help them make healthy choices. This encourages balance and variety in a way that promotes growth and development without becoming obsessive. However, do not excessively monitor your child’s diet nor every bite. This can become counter-productive when done in such a way that it becomes over-protective.

  • Encouragement: While you might decide to lightly suggest specific foods to your child as a prompt for them to eat, be careful to do so without a consequence for noncompliance. Some children, particularly those with picky eating, have personalities and temperaments that will shut down instead of blossom when any form of encouragement is used. Sometimes merely offering a food and saying nothing else is the better option because it prevents us from saying too much or using a tone of voice or lack of responsiveness to your child that mimics pressure or force.

  • Praise: Praise the process not the person. This means, you can praise your child’s willingness to learn to like a new food by allowing it on their plate, touching, or tasting it (even if they decide they’re still learning to like it and ultimately don’t eat it). This may increase acceptance of new foods and create positive reinforcement for some children’s involvement in the process of eating. This can also widely vary with a child’s temperament and level of selectivity towards trying new foods though. If using praise, be sure you don’t tie your child’s worth to whether they eat or don’t. Using conditional terms like “You’re a good boy (or girl)” can hinder a child’s internal desire to adopt healthy habits.

  • Nutrition Education: While nutritional education can help children to make informed choices about the foods they eat (especially as they get older), more conclusive research is needed to support the use of nutrition education being used at the table. In general, most education that parents attempt to share with their children is not age-appropriate nor something they are even able to grasp at their age. Additionally, children often don’t know how to use or translate such attempts at nutrition education so it can create more harm than good for some children to be exposed to this information than not at all. In general, it is best to avoid using messages about a foods healthfulness (or lack thereof) to reason or pressure your child to eat (or avoid) them. Instead, expose them to what a healthy diet is and let them learn that from experience instead of verbal education.

  • Reasoning: More research is needed to determine if and how the use logic or explanations to persuade your child to change their eating behaviors impacts their dietary intake. Avoid encouraging healthy foods as “good” or discouraging unhealthy foods as “bad,” or using reasoning that is done with a tone, intention, or motivation to “get your child to eat.” This can undermine the behaviors we want to practice and more closely reflect those we are trying to avoid. Additionally, children often learn that foods don’t taste as good require reasoning (like “Eat your broccoli because it is good for you”), while no reasoning is needed to get children to eat foods they willingly prefer (like ice cream). For this reason, it is often best to limit reasoning and instead to focus on talking about a food’s attributes in other ways that help your child learn to like them.

  • Negotiation: While research is unclear on exactly how negotiation impacts a child’s long term diet, some families might be successful with coming to an agreement about what or how much the child will eat. This behavior can support a child’s autonomy when parents respect their child’s desires and preferences for if/whether and how much they will eat. Negotiations that use subtle pressure, however, can create conflict and make children less willing to eat on their own. Any negotiations that create conflict at the table (i.e. a three bite rule, etc.) are best avoided as they more often than not derail families from following a Division of Responsibility in feeding approach.


Final Thoughts

By reflecting on what of our own health-related baggage we are coming into the New Year with, reviewing some of the behaviors we can change in how we food parent with the aim of impacting our children’s relationships with food for the better, and responding in a way that applies evidenced-based best practices to our own family meal times, 2019 can be a year of true transformation. I hope you’re ready for it!

Where to Start

I can’t tell you how often I get emails and messages, like this:

I’ve been following your Instagram account for a while now and I love your approach to food! However, I’m finding it so hard to get my 2 year old daughter to eat healthy, filling foods. I try my best to only offer her nutritious options to help her get adequate fat, fiber, protein and veggies, but I’m telling you, her diet is largely dairy and fruit with some eggs mixed in when she’s feeling up for it. My husband and I have tried so many approaches, to backing off and seemingly “not caring” if she eats the food we offer her or not, to bribing, to ultimatums. We are at a loss! Do you have a course or something you offer? Any help would be so appreciated. 

Almost all of us parents need help in knowing how to feed our kids (myself included!), but only some will actually reach out to a registered dietitian to ask for it.

That’s why as we kick off the New Year, I want to make it as easy as possible for you to access whatever resources you and your family need to succeed in the year ahead.

 
 

Many of you have been asking me for courses, printables, and other easy to digest resources to help walk you through the best way to feed your kids.

While I have big hopes for all the resources yet to come (and based on more of your requests!), I have already created a few new offerings many of you don’t know about and yet could start using immediately!

You can find all of them on my new Start Here page.

 
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On my new Start Here page, I share:


As the year goes on, I will continue to update the Start Here page with new resources to help you, so keep checking back! Better yet, be sure you are signed up for my once weekly newsletter. You can join thousands of other moms who want FREE information for feeding their families better delivered to their inbox every Friday. I will also share exclusive promotions I run on products and services in my store!

To sign up, enter your email here:

I have so many Frequently Asked Questions in cue to post in the coming weeks that I can’t wait to share with you! Everything from how to handle bedtime snacks to what to do if your child only eats their “love it” food. I love receiving these questions from so many of you, so it is my goal in 2019 to connect you to the information, inspiration, and advice you need to raise achieve less meal time stress and more feeding success.

Thank you for including me in your journey!

Pushing Pause

I keep seeing all these posts pop up about giving ourselves permission to eat pie, consume what we want, stop when we are full, and many other rights that relate to intuitive eating over the holidays.

Why is it then that it’s so hard to give ourselves permission to push pause? Be it over the holidays or in life after a little one comes along, it seems so hard to give ourselves permission to push pause.

As moms, I think part of it is the guilt game is strong. If we aren’t failing our kids, we often feel we are failing our careers or vice versa. If we push pause somewhere, that inevitably means we aren’t giving or being enough elsewhere.

We feel this need to do it all, be it all, and prove we can manage it all. Even when deep down, sometimes we just want to say, “No, this is enough.”

 
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“Enough”


That’s what maternity leave is for isn’t it?

A time when our lives are reduced down to the most simple and pure state of what is deemed “enough.” To settle into a season with a new little human (and possibly addition) in our families. To create space to heal and to grow, to allow margin from other demands, and to protect a small window of passing time when whatever we can give to the lives within the walls of our home is enough.

To say: My newborn snuggles are enough. My attempt at special time with each older kid is enough. My spit up covered shirt and less-than-cute nursing bra underneath is enough. My exclusive use of curbside pickup for groceries is enough. My reheated coffee (x3) today is enough. My sub-par freezer meals for dinner are enough. My one shared story before bedtime instead of two total is enough. What I am giving is enough.

The internal struggle though to truly accept “enough” in these early days of caring for a new life is real.

After our first, I was a full-time stay at home mom. I soaked up every second in the early days and had no other competing interest other than caring for her. My husband worked almost 80 hour weeks, so it was just she and I most the time. I knew I was her everything in that season and boy, I embraced it. But eventually, it got so lonely and “just” staying home didn’t feel like enough anymore. I didn’t have friends (yet) with kids and I began to want “something else.” What had been enough initially led me into a season of wanting more. I started being interested in food photography, the world of blogging, and how I could continue dabbling in my career from the comfort of my own home. In the Fall before our second child was born, I started a website sharing it only with my mom, best friend, and a few others.

After our second, my husband and I struggled. We wanted to love and bond with our new baby, but the endless crying nearly consumed us. We had prepared to help our oldest in the transition, but we were not ready for how hard some infants could be ourselves. The week we began to research hiring a night nanny, our daughter was almost three months old. She finally turned a corner and things began to get better in our home, but our life as a whole otherwise got turned upside down. After an intervention on my dad and ultimately his passing when our second was eight months old, everything with my business ambitions and professional aims were on pause. I was mom of two and next of kin with no mental or emotional energy to invest elsewhere.

Eventually I got back into finding a balance between work and home life and allotted any spare time I could create into building Veggies & Virtue. I had almost a solid year of twice weekly preschool days to invest in something that truly has become such a dream come true before we found out we were expecting our third child.

That’s what brings us to now.

We had our third child in August, and he couldn’t be any sweeter of a baby. We have been able to reclaim the joys of newborns that were honestly lost last time and own the desire to hog the baby versus hand him or her off. However with a family that is now full and a business that has grown, the very things that are all such a gift, a true blessing, and a humble reminder of all we have been given, are also a lot.

Compared to when I started out searching for and seeking “something else” as a new mom of one, life is different now. My baby is different, my marriage is different, and the needs of my older kids are different.

When there isn’t “enough of me to go around,” I have to be mature and mindful enough as a mom, as well as a health professional, to know when to push pause and prioritize what is in fact, enough.

Pushing Pause

I spent the summer months trying hard to get ahead for an intended maternity leave. I thought that by creating enough content for a projected six weeks of such “leave,” it would lend me some “time off” to care for the little people in my life.

The reality is though, in the now 12+ weeks since Owen was born, I barely feel as though I have worked less. My email autoresponder saying I was “unavailable” didn’t actually stop me from replying to many emails nor did it redirect any of my work elsewhere. My social media use has indeed been less and forced me to make a few modifications to be able to manage it, but it remains something that literally never sleeps nor stops. My blog has continued to post and my newsletters continue to be published. I launched a beta e-series for Love it, Like it, Learning it, which started only weeks after Owen was born.

I pretended I was “still here” with all the automation tools available and all it did was indeed, keep me mentally here, there, and seemingly everywhere… except the one place I so wanted to be: snuggled up with the sole job of loving on my three littles.

Being able to work for myself is a blessing. I have tremendous flexibility to allow for family life, which I am so thankful for. With this, I also have constant temptation though. I never leave the office nor have accounted hours for work or to be with family. Between newborn nights and two preschoolers (neither of which who nap), my work days never go uninterrupted nor as planned. Sometimes my only dedicated time to sit at a computer only lasts for the twenty minutes it takes our little guy to nurse from both sides. I have no one to direct work towards when I’m away nor an organization that keeps operating in my absence while “on leave.” Even if someday a VA would be uh-mazing, I’m not there yet. So me, myself, and I have to be enough.

And right now, there is just not enough of me to go around.

What I know from this time last year is that my kid’s littleness won’t wait for me. The memories I want to be fully present in will pass whether I’m 100% there or not. The gifts I want to give others of my time and service aren’t those seen on social media. The needs most pulling on my heart strings aren’t those penciled on my planner. The “enough” I may never feel I have achieved professionally is actually rather obvious at home… when I am willing to push pause and choose that it is indeed enough for me.

That’s why for the remainder of 2018, I am giving myself permission to not post any new content on my site. I will still have plenty of work to do to get ready for the New Year, but in terms of blog posts, I am pushing pause.

I need to be there for my family. I also need to know that in a world of endless demands and competition, I’m not one more person to pull you away from your family with a few more posts. Since there never seems to be enough of us to go around, let’s instead be moms together that show our children how to push pause. To be present over posted. To value progress over perfection when we realize our plan didn’t pan out how we thought it would. To say, “this is enough and it is well with my soul.”

By making a post out of this announcement (and probably sharing TMI, I know), I am attempting to keep myself accountable to this commitment. I am also hoping that in sharing this piece of my heart, I might encourage another mom out there who needs such permission to push pause too.

I know in each of our jobs (be it at home or in an office), this type of “break” might not be possible around the holidays. But for those of us who might have the only thing holding us back being ourselves and our never-ending “yes” nature, my hope is that we recognize how sometimes saying “no” helps us see what is actually enough. Often when we step away from some of the to do’s that can wait and ambitions that are intended for another day, we can better enjoy the small, the simple, and the sweet moments we too often miss when we are so spread thin.

I am going to do this, and I hope to whatever extent you are able to, you do too.

Happy Holidays, mama. You are enough.

See you in 2019,

Ashley


Scripture that has really spoken to me in this season:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Matthew 16:24-26



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