How to Make One Meal for the Whole Family

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Super Simple Online. As always, all opinions are my own.

If you find yourself short-order cooking and amidst the stressful dynamics of making everyone a separate meal, you need to tune in to today's post.

Over on the Super Silly blog, I share how to How to Make One Meal for the Whole Family. With five considerations to avoid short-order cooking or fights over the food that is offered, this post will walk you through some of the steps to establishing set a new precedence at family meals. These act as a framework to help you begin serving one meal for the whole family.

I am confident that these five steps can help families find newfound freedom with what to offer at meal times, making the shared experience at the table a happy and healthy one! Which one will you start implementing tonight?

For more on this topic, visit these posts:

How to Make One Meal for the Whole Family Menu Ideas

I spent the first half of 2018 sharing family-friendly meal plans on the Veggies & Virtue blog. I also sent bonus content each week to subscribers on serving these up to more apprehensive of eaters, using my "Love it, Like it, Learning it approach to deciding "what to offer" so that everyone has something at the table they enjoy! To join the thousands of mamas who receive this newsletter each week, join here!

Otherwise, review the menus for Winter and Spring by clicking on the thumbnails below. You will find a variety of ideas of family-friendly meal ideas, all of which can be offered as one meal for the whole family!

Looking for more inspiration on how to offer one meal to the whole family?

Be sure to follow #onemealtwoways each week on my Instagram! With each, you will see how one meal is offered two ways for my child and my preferences and on each of our plates!

The Most FAQs of BLW

This post is sponsored by Regalo. Thank you for the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On High Chair and for the opportunity to share this information with my audience. Please note, this post also contains affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I was in my kitchen starting Baby Led Weaning (BLW) with my second daughter. Having used BLW with my first daughter as well, I had a growing interest in how this approach to infant feeding had evolved into one that more and more families in the States are starting to adopt as well.

That's why when my best friend scheduled a visit to Texas right at her daughter's 6-month milestone, I was eager to know if and how they would be introducing solids. As their visit got closer, it was a delight to know my friend wanted to initiate BLW while they were here. What a treat for me to help her with!

This post includes many of the FAQs that came up both with my friend and as submitted by many fellow moms. I hope the content below will be a helpful starting place when it comes to starting solids with BLW - both at home and when away.


Just because my child is 6 months old, can I assume they are ready to start solids?

Although most organizations recommend starting solids at or around 6 months (as discussed in an article shared here), there are other considerations to keep in mind before jumping into BLW.

When an infant is spoon fed purees, some parents may hastily assume their infant can already handle food since it requires less coordination of their gross, oral, and fine motor skills to be spoon-fed purees versus self-feed soft table foods.

Some signs of readiness that matter particularly with BLW, however, are for an infant to show the developmental signs of readiness to self-feed (as shared in a post here and here). When an infant shows adequate head control, core strength, the ability to open their mouths to food, loss of tongue thrust, and the fine motor skills necessary to self feed, a parent can safely and effectively move forward with BLW. Ensuring these developmental milestones have been met before starting solids allows the infant to focus more on exploring the food and self-manipulating it towards their mouth, as well as the actual act of eating.

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When traveling, can I just hold my infant in my lap to feed them? I would prefer not to worry about toting along a high chair.

For ease's sake, this is an understandable question most parents ask.

Without wanting to pack even a traditional chair-topper "portable" high chair, it can be tempting to feed your infant from your lap. This is not recommended, however, for a few reasons. One, it is important that your child is in a safe and secure location. Part of the autonomy developed with BLW is your child's ability to self-feed (in a safe way). Your securing them into a high chair allows them to lead this process, regulate the pace of feeding, and gain coordination in doing so from a seat.

Further, it is important that you are always able to see your child's face as they eat. In order to ensure safe feeding practices and prevent choking, parents need to be able to supervise their child. Attempting to do so with an infant seated in your lap, most often facing outward with their back to you, would be both awkward and ineffective. Lastly, the more support you can provide your child while eating the better (that goes for all ages!). Offering an adequate back rest, base, and ideally spot for feet allows your child to have the reinforcement they need to successfully self-feed.

For a safe, affordable, and compact option, the Easy Diner Portable Hook On Chair satisfies the needs parents have while traveling. It comes in a bag where the chair easily breaks down and lies flat, slim enough to slide into even that outer zipper area of a suitcase. The chair then reassembles easily so that you can securely attach it to any table or counter (assuming there is no lip underneath). We used our Hook On Chair often when traveling with littles and appreciated how easy this set-up worked when having to pack all the items needed for infants. Possibly what I appreciate most though is that this Hook On Chair is not exclusive to travel.

Even with a more traditional high chair in our home, I can't imagine our infant years with each child not having a Hook On Chair. Similar to how the Learning Tower is a mainstay at our island, hook on chairs were their vehicle for "at the counter" engagement until they became big enough to stand at a learning tower like stool. This made me more pleased with my purchasing this for travel, as I was able to extend its life at home on the counter, to complement the traditional (non-portable) high chair that stayed table side.

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Besides making sure my child is safely seated, how can I prevent them from choking? It seriously freaks me out.

One of the best things parents can do prior to starting BLW is to educate themselves.

Many parents hesitate to allow their child to self-feed through a BLW approach out of fear for their child choking. While this is a valid concern and one every parent should heed with caution, it is also one that can most often be minimized with a proper understanding of what BLW is, when to start, what foods to include plus which foods to avoid, and how to prevent choking. Often, parents confuse choking with gagging though. To better understand this question and others, I shared a post on here that highlights how parents need to:

  • Avoid choking hazards
  • Offer safe finger foods
  • Minimize distractions while eating
  • Understand what gagging in infancy really is(includes a video of what to look for!)
  • Recognize choking early
  • Educate caretakers on CPR readiness
  • Run a finger swipe test when a meal is finished

A few of my other favorite resources for parents to consider in order to better familiarize themselves with BLW and the associated safety precautions include this flagship BLW book as well as a newly released book called, Born to Eat. A couple of online infant feeding classes specific to BLW that I also highly recommend are those by Registered Dietitians Megan McNamee at Feeding Littles and Jessica Coll of

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What are some of the best foods to start BLW with?

The fun thing about BLW is the options of what to offer your infant are truly endless. When first starting out though, there are a few foods that most feeding experts and pediatric dietitians particularly prefer. These include those that are nutrient-dense and offer nutritional benefits to complement a diet of predominantly breastmilk and/or formula. Some great first foods include:

  • Avocado: Raw; cut into 1/8 lengthwise to offer long strips
  • Baked sweet potatoes: Baked whole; cut into 1/8 lengthwise to offer long strips. May cut strips in half so they are a fist-and-a-half long.
  • Eggs: Scramble into pieces large enough for infant to hold in their fist or boil to make an egg salad they can scoop with their fingers into their mouths.
  • Yogurt: Choose a whole milk, plain flavored yogurt. Don't fall for "Yo-Baby" as an ideal choice for infants. Give them a small, safe spoon to use or allow them to use their fingers to self-scoop.
  • French Toast: Using breastmilk and eggs, soak whole grain bread (free from whole nuts or seeds on the crust). Cook until golden brown and then cut into 2 inch strips. For additional flavor, you may also add other items into the milk and egg mixture, including flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, applesauce and/or plain, canned pumpkin.
  • Peanut Butter: Using the yogurt or french toast ideas from above, introduce peanut butter by swirling it in until well mixed with yogurt. Or, thinly smear onto a warm finger-like strip of french toast.
  • Steak: Cooked medium to medium well so it is juicy and tender. Cut into fist-and-a-half long strips. Do not add any salt-containing seasonings or marinades; may season with any other herbs or spices, however.

For more ideas on how to offer fruits and vegetables for BLW (including specific instructions for how to cut and cook), check out the post I shared here.

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How do I know if a food is safe to offer my baby?

In general, there are three rules of thumb parents starting BLW should know.

One, offer a "finger-like" strip of food. More specifically, give your child strips of food that are about one-and-a-half lengths of their fist. Visually, this means that even with a good grasp on the food item, your child can still have some sticking out to eat from. This helps your child to learn how much they can safely handle in their mouth at one time. This also gives parents a safe target for the most appropriate shape of foods to offer children ages 6-8 months old, before their pincer grasp develops (closer to 9 months of age).

Two, do the "smoosh test" (my technical term here). If you are ever in doubt about if a food may or may not be safe for infant self-feeding, press it firmly between your pointer finger and thumb. Similar to how a ripe avocado would "smoosh" when pressed in this way, a safe food should be soft enough should do the same. This allows infants, even without teeth, to firmly gum their foods in a way that smooshes them down to an almost pureed like texture.

Three, avoid foods that could break off easily into small pieces. Such foods may create a small choking hazard that could block baby's airway. Such foods often include raw fruits and vegetables that are hard, crunchy, or overly firm (think carrots, apples, raw broccoli and cauliflower). For any of these foods, find other ways to serve them either cooked (to a consistency that meets the smoosh test) or finely chopped and added into another food item (like muffins, pancakes, sauces, etc.).

Are there any foods I need to avoid all together with BLW?

In short, yes. While there are some obvious foods, such as those that are choking hazards, there are also ingredients that are best avoided in infancy. In a post I shared here, the following foods are best avoided: added salt, added sugar, and choking hazards. The best foods to encourage are those that include iron, zinc, vitamin D, and fats, especially omega 3s.

What do I do if the food feels too slippery for my infant to pick up on their own?

With BLW, one of the best known tricks for this is to roll any slippery food item (like mango) in almond meal or oat cereal (you can also use infant rice cereal). This will cut down on how slippery the item is while also giving a little nutritional boost to whatever makes it into their mouth.

One reality to learn how to embrace in this season though is that of messes. Particularly with BLW, it is messy! The self-exploration of foods at this age will end up all over. That isn't something to try to tame or discourage though. Infants ability to explore new foods, textures, and feelings in both their mouths and hands (and likely hair!) gives them valuable experiences to store when learning new foods. Instead, find things that make your life easier like bibs that actually stay on (this one and this one are two of my faves), a splat mat (or old bedsheet!) to catch what falls, as well as a sustainable system for cleaning up after your messy kid.

The removable insert in the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On Chair is an ingenius addition to this portable high chair. Unlike some of the other hook on chairs we have used or seen, this allows parents to remove the main insert on the chair where food may have fallen and made a mess. While the straps and chair itself will still need a nice wipe down after each meal, I appreciate how I could remove this piece of the chair without completing disassembling and washing the whole thing.

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Do I need to space out foods or use the "wait rule?" My child does not have a family history of food allergies.

Research shows that parents with children who are not at increased risk for food allergies do not need to wait 3-7 days between the introduction of different foods. For families with a history of food allergies, speak with your pediatrician about what the preferred approach is and how much time they suggest you take between introducing new foods. Otherwise, the more foods and flavors you can introduce early on, the more likely you are to spur your infant on as an adventurous eater.

For families who find themselves in the kitchen and/or cooking often, this is another one of the reasons I love and encourage Hook On Chairs at the counter. Having your young child at a safe and yet close distance as you cook with you affords a naturally opportunity to get kids in the kitchen from infancy onward. It also reminds parents that starting your infant on solids isn't so much about the calculated effort of what single ingredient food to offer and when, but rather engaging them in the foods, flavors, and feelings that a variety of foods offers them at even an early age.

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Is there a feeding schedule I should follow?

When introducing solids, most experts recommend that you start offering foods at one meal a day and gradually increase the frequency for when complementary foods are offered until your child begins to join in on three main meals as well as 2-3 daily snacks. This develops over 4-6 months however, from the time solids are introduced until 10-12 months when your child begins to get a better grasp on self-feeding (literally). Follow your child's lead as they begin to show more of an interest in food and ability to self-feed. Then you can begin to include them in more family meals and snacks to support their growing needs.

The key here to remember is that whatever you offer your infant is intended to be complimentary. Starting BLW does not replace breastmilk nor formula, but rather is intended to help compliment it by adding important nutrients, flavors, and textures to your child's growing diet.

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The Big Picture of BLW

Transitioning your infant to more of a schedule for WHEN to serve meals and snacks, while also factoring in WHAT foods you offer them and WHERE you will serve them (like in a Hook On Chair) begins to set the stage for any new parent to adopt the Division of Responsibility in feeding.

As the most highly recommended feeding approach to use with children of all ages, I respect how Baby Led Weaning equips parents early on in what their role is with the Division of Responsibility in feeding while also respecting their child's role - even in infancy. The Division of Responsibility is something that is sorely missed in most infant education materials and often goes unheard of until later on when parents may begin to struggle with signs of picky eating. Instead, practicing this approach with your child from an early age makes maintaining a Division of Responsibility in your home a more natural transition when it comes time to feeding a toddler.

For this reason and all the answers we worked through above, I am so grateful to have gotten my best friend "hooked" on BLW as well as the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On Chair. Being from a family I know loves to cook and travel, I know my best friend's daughter could use this as a portable way to engage in meals, snacks, and the cooking process for years to come!

A special thanks to Regalo for this opportunity to share some of the FAQs for BLW, as well as for providing us with the perfect portable seat for my best friend's 6-month old to use during their visit. A special shout out to both Baby Tay-Tay and her mom, as well. You both did such a great job starting BLW in a safe and enjoyable way. Thank you for letting me be a part of your feeding journey!

How Much Protein Does My Preschooler Need?

One of the major requests I hear when it comes to "what to pack for lunch" stems from parents (and kids!) wanting ways to pack enough protein without always defaulting to a deli sandwiches or meat (which many kids consider too stringy).

What many parents don't realize though is how much protein their kids actually need each day. Would you believe it's not that much (by most adults standards)?

That's why this post will address not only the amount of protein children need, but also how easy it is to get the recommended amount through easy-to-include items that aren't sandwiches or straight meat. This post will also touch on another key nutrient parents need to pay just as much (if not more!) attention to when packing a nutritionally well-balanced lunchbox!

The timing of school's meals and snacks are becoming more and more concerning to parents. Especially in elementary school and thereafter, parents recognize that their kids may have large gaps between when breakfast is offered at home, lunch is given at school, and snacks after school can even be offered.

As we look at little kids appetites and intakes, the timing of meals and snacks becomes even more important. With smaller stomachs, young kids can't "fill up" the same way their older sibling or later teenage self might do. Instead, they rely on regularly spaced meals and snacks plus an age-appropriate offering of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to sustain their energy levels and meet their nutrient needs.

While fruits and veggies are vital to each kid's nutritional health and well being, the fiber from them alone won't keep kids as full as fat or protein will. So let's review what kids need from a nutritional standpoint with protein and fat and then address some bologna-free options for how to get in protein and fat at lunch time.

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How much protein does my child need?

Most parents assume "a lot." The reality is though, it isn't as much as we assume. That's why I want to give you a bit more info on the nitty gritty math behind it so you can feel more comfortable calculating the average amounts that are adequate for your child.

Calculating Protein Needs (in grams)

The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for protein needs in kids is 1.1 g/kg/day for 1-3 year olds and 0.95 g/kg/day in 4-13 year olds. Since we don't use the metric system in the US, this equates to roughly 0.5 g/lb/day in 1-3 year olds and 0.43 g/lb/day in 4-13 year olds.

Multiply this amount of protein by your child's weight, and you get the average amount of protein they need to meet their protein needs. For a 26-pound two year old, this would be 13 grams of protein per day. For a 37-pound four year old, this would be 16 grams of protein per day.

If you divide that up between three meals and two snacks each day, that's about 3 g of protein per meal or snack (which is less than a single scrambled egg, cheese stick, or 8-oz glass of milk!).

Calculating Protein Needs (with an acceptable range)

Since no child, especially picky eaters, eats a predictable and consistent amount from day to day, another way to look at protein needs is by considering an acceptable range, known as Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (or AMDR). This range of AMDR's for "macronutrients" (protein, fat, and carbs) helps give parents the peace of mind over how much of their child's diet should be made up of that macronutrient.

In the case of protein, children ages 1-3 years old have a AMDR of 5-20%. This means of all the calories your child eats in a day, 5-20% of them should be in the form of protein. So what does this equate to? For an average toddler (ages 1-3), they need an average of 1,200 calories a day. That means an appropriate range for their protein intake would be 15-60 grams of protein per day (based off of 4 calories/gram of protein)


How much fat does my child need?

One of the reasons I even share about the AMDRs above is to show the relative percentage of protein young children need compared to fat.

In working with several families, I know many parents are hyper focused on getting their child's protein needs met. However, very few parents realize that their children need over twice the amount of fat per day that they do protein.

Let's look at the calculations again, this time in terms of a child's fat AMDRs.

Calculating Fat Needs (with an acceptable range)

Children ages 1-3 years old have a AMDR for fat of 30-40%. This  means that for an average toddler (ages 1-3) who needs an average of 1,200 calories a day, they need 40-53 grams of fat per day (based off of 9 calories/gram of fat).


What exactly does this look like?

Now that you have learned how to do the math for how much protein and fat your child needs each day, you are probably wondering how the grams of protein and fat translate to real life?

Great question. That's where we get to talking about "servings," and how many "servings per day" it usually takes for a child to meet their nutritional needs. For an average toddler eating 1,200 calories per day, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises the following number of servings for each food group:

  • Fruits: 1 cup
  • Veggies: 1.5 cups
  • Grains: 4 ounces
  • Protein: 3 ounces
  • Dairy: 2.5 cups
How much protein does my toddler need each day?

Since ounces and cups still aren't as straight-forward as seeing what an actual kid eats, there are some great resources available to show you what a serving of fruits, veggies, grains, meat, and dairy actually looks like this one:

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What are some real life examples?

For some help putting this all into practice, here are 10 simple examples of ways to offer proteins and fat at lunch -- no sandwiches nor sweat required! A summary of these options are included at the bottom of this post.

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Edamame packs 5 grams of protein per 1/4 cup!

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Build Your Own Nachos with bean based chips + one cheese slice pack 8 grams of protein!

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A 1.5-ounce skinless chicken leg + 1/4 cup of quinoa salad packs 12 grams of protein! 

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1/4 cup of beans + 2 tablespoons of green peas packs 5 grams of protein! 

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A fruit and nut bar packs 6 grams of protein! 

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1-ounce of smoked salmon packs 7 grams of protein! 

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1/2-ounce of uncured salami pieces + 1/2-ounce cheese stick + 1/4 cup of hummus packs 12 grams of protein! 


1/4 of a high protein waffles pack 5 grams of protein!  


1/2 cup of Greek yogurt packs 11 grams of protein!

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One slice of smashed avocado and chickpea toast packs 6 grams of protein!



For any of you skimmers out there, here is what you need to remember from this post:

  1. Kids ages 1-3 need 5-20% of their diets made up of protein. This equals an average of 0.5 grams protein per pound of body weight (so a 26 pound two year old needs 13 grams protein).
  2. Kids ages 1-3 need 30-40% of their diets made up of fat. This equals an average of 40-50 grams fat per day.
  3. Kids can get protein from a variety of foods including both plant- and animal-based options. Some kid-friendly lunchbox ideas include: edamame, cheese, chicken, quinoa, beans, green peas, fruit and nut bars, smoked salmon, uncured meats, hummus, breakfast for lunch, yogurt, and sandwiches.
  4. Kids can get fat from a variety of foods including both plant- and animal-based options too. Whenever possible, focus on plant-based fats or those that are rich in omegas (like those found in salmon, walnuts, tuna, and hemp and chia seeds).
  5. Mix up what types and amounts of proteins and fats you offer your children each day! This not only helps prevent food jags and picky eating, but also promotes variety to help your kids get the nutrition they need.

Want more tips on how to pack a lunchbox? Grab the FREE printable below.

How to Make Meal Times More Peaceful with Kids

Creating more peaceful family meal times in just three steps

Written as a collaboration with Australian family dietitian Kate Wengier of Foost.


Family mealtimes (where at least one adult eats with the children) is one the most powerful things you can do to help your children become adventurous and colorful eaters (AKA less fussy with food!). Family mealtimes not only help kids nutritionally but also socially and academically!

By allowing children as young as two years of age to serve themselves and choose what they put on their plates, you empower them to have trust in their own abilities to self-select and self-regulate their appetite, hunger, and fullness. In giving them this newfound sense of control over if/whether and how much they eat, family meals can be a winning set-up for feeding kids, including your pickiest of eaters.

But how do you get children both to the table AND to stop squirmy and complaining?

This post provides three steps for more peaceful meal times:

  1. Create a before the table routine (transition period)

  2. Manage your own exceptions at the table

  3. Have a few table 'rules' 

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STEP 1: Create a before table routine (transition period)

For older children, give a 10 and 5 minute warning before meal time. This allows them to wrap up their homework or activity. If they are not engaged in something at the time of this heads up, invite them into the kitchen to help prepare the final aspects of the meal. 

For younger children, they may already be at your ankles asking when dinner will be ready. To help with this, get them engaged in getting the meal ready but do not seat them at the table in advance. If your child struggles to sit at the table through a meal, it is better to engage them in other ways like practicing life skills such as carrying items to the table, placing napkins at each spot, or adding spoons for a family style meal while you get the meal on the table. The five minutes spent engaging them in setting out the food may be the only five minutes they will stay seated for a meal, so use that time wisely and reserve it for once food has already been served.

For kids of all ages, especially those who may be more apprehensive to new foods (i.e. "picky"), offer them sensory play before a meal. While "working up an appetite" is always good with getting kids hungry for a meal, waking up their senses prior to sitting them down to eat a meal may also help improve if/whether and how much they eat. Having simple sensory items like a bin of rice, dry beans, cornmeal, or just water with a few scoops, funnels, or toys can further get them ready for a meal. While a large tub works well for this, see Ashley's favorite DIY sensory table here.


STEP 2: Manage expectations

Be clear about expectations. Don't feel bad saying that meals are not only about eating but also about togetherness. Tell them you expect them to join their siblings and/or family for meals whether they choose to eat or not. Then, be sure they are also well aware of the expectations after meals. If they get up from the table, the meal is over. If they get hungry, they will need to wait until the next planned meal or snack. This helps them to learn the cause and effect of listening to actual cues of hunger and fullness, without getting the easy out to just have snacks or graze more later after they chose to prematurely get up from the table. Then stick to these, calmly and yet confidently at meal times. This is all part of establishing a Division of Responsibility with feeding and creating a successful feeding environment.

Be realistic about how long they should stay seated. Most kids can handle 2-5 minutes seated at the table per year of life. If it is a meal they're not into, it's usually on the lower end and vice versa with a meal they are enjoying, they will usually stay a bit longer. So for a two year old, expect 5-10 minutes as an age appropriate amount of time they can sit at the table. For more tips on how to keep your kiddo seated at the table, visit this post.

Manage your own expectations. If you have planned a family meal that you know includes at least 1-2 items your child tends to prefer, then be at peace with whatever amount of food they choose to eat (if any). Don't expect your child will consistently eat those foods nor try a bit of everything offered. Instead, rest assured that you have done your job by the time the meal is served. You are then helping your child do their job by fostering a feeding environment that allows them to determine if/whether and how much they eat. You can learn more about how to use the "Love it, Like it, Learning it," approach here.


STEP 3: Have a few table 'rules'

You don't have to eat but you come to the table and sit with us. As shared above, make sure your child(ren) understands that family meals are about more than just the food. Teach them to enjoy the social experience of a shared meal, even if they choose not to eat or express very little appetite.

Don't be rude to food. This is something that you want to teach your children while they are young and in the comfort of your own home, so that as they get older and out into other food settings, they remain polite and respectful -- even when offered meals they may not be big fans of.

We don't use the words, "I don't like it" in our family. It is completely normal and age-appropriate for children to not prefer every food we put in front of them. Families need to change their language though when it comes to avoiding such foods. Instead of allowing your child to use "I don't like it" for any item they choose not to eat, train your family to change their language to "I am still learning it." With this, you open up a whole host of opportunities to help you child learn to like this new or non-preferred food.

Turn the screen off. Distractions at meal times are not only takes away from family time, but also have been shown to create less healthful food choices and take attention off of if/whether and how much they eat. Encouraging mindfulness in eating at an early age is an important feeding skill to empower them with so that they learn to pay attention as they eat, listen to their bodies, and then regulate appropriately for their appetite (or lack thereof). So make family mealtimes a time to practice mindful eating and to enjoy each other's company. Turn off the TV and pop mobile phones away. Instead, find out what fun things happened that day. Did something exciting or funny happen? Did they help anyone today? Did anything sad happen? 

Create a pressure free zone. One of the underlying principles to the Division of Responsibility is to create a positive feeding environment -- meaning it is pressure free. part of that is knowing when you should or shouldn't say something about if/whether and how much your child may be eating. If you find yourself tempted to pressure or prompt your child to eat a certain food or amount, stop yourself. It is better to say nothing than to speak up in a way that creates unintentional but perceived pressure on your child.

Try serving meals family style. Rather than pre-serving meals on plates, pop the meal in the middle of the table and let the kids serve themselves. Give them the tongs, they will love it! This is great for them taking responsibility in their own eating but also good for fine motor skills. Where possible, deconstructing the meals can help too. Think, un-tossed salads with dressing on the side, putting pasta noodles with the sauce served separately on the side, or build your own tacos to make meals more appealing for kids.

Eat with your children. This doesn’t have to be the whole family, but try and have one adult eating with the kids. Although this can be hard for some families at dinner time due to late working hours, you could try having a half dinner with the kids and eating the other half later when your spouse is home. Breakfast or weekends are other great opportunities to try and get the whole family at the table

Here's to More Pleasant Meal Times!

Try and follow these three steps for creating happier, family mealtimes. Let us know on social media @veggiesandvirtue and what worked for you!


To happy, colorful eating,

Ashley and Kate


Summer Potlucks and Picky Eaters

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Regalo. Thank you Regalo for providing us with the Portable Activity Chairs to enjoy at all of our summer potlucks.

I would love to be the dietitian whose kid ate anything and everything at a good summer barbecue. From marinated meats to grilled veggies to an assortment of mixed pasta salads and fresh green salads, there are so many foods I love about summer...that my kids won't touch.

I recognize that I am not alone in this, especially after how many times I have seen parents carefully make a plate with the 1-2 foods their child *may* eat.

Besides the distractions of other kids making it hard to sit still and the foods that are likely prepared differently than what's offered at homes, kids -- especially picky eaters -- can really struggle with what to eat when at summer gatherings.

Our kids struggle is our stress. Am I right?

So let's lay down some ground rules for your next summer potluck.

Here is how to take your picky eater to a summer potluck (without stressing):


Follow a Division of Responsibility with Feeding (addressing  the WHO)

As I recommend as the #1 key to success in this free parent download, the first thing we as parents must do is recreate our attitude and approach to feeding our child(ren). If you aren't already owning your responsibility of feeding your child, that needs to be your first goal.
A parent's responsibility is the WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE their child is offered food.

By your assuming these responsibility prior to a public potluck, you set both your child and you up for a more enjoyable meal time shared with others. The following ideas address some ways you can help with the what, when, and where of what you're responsible for, so that your child is better able to succeed with their responsibility in eating.
A child's responsibility is the if/whether and how much they eat from what is offered.


Always bring something you know your kid will eat (addressing the WHAT)

Have you started working through the Love it, Like it, Learning it approach with your child (Key #2 in this free parent printable)? If not, prior to a potluck is a great time to give it a try. Because by bringing a dish to a potluck (or offering one when hosting) that you know your family/child LOVES (a "love it" food), you will then be able to rest assured that there is at least something for your child to eat at the gathering -- even if they are still learning to like everything else.

Of note: If you are bringing/serving more than one item, all of them don't have to be tailored to your picky eater. Just make sure that you are providing at least one option you know they will eat, even if it is just fresh cut watermelon. It should not be on the host to accommodate to your picky eater, nor should you have to stress at an otherwise fun gathering about if/whether and how much your child will eat. If you help work through the WHAT is being offering, if and how much they eat is on them.


Help your child adjust to the timing (addressing the WHEN)

The reality is, potlucks aren't always planned at the ideal time for every family when there are several people and one gathering place to consider. Sometimes the potluck may interfere with nap time and more commonly, they can run late and into night time. With each of these timing conflicts, the time in which your child gets to (or doesn't get to) eat may create issues.

So help your child from getting hangry by giving them a balanced snack ahead of time. Then when you arrive (or as guests have all arrived, when hosting), consider the timing of when others may be eating. If it is a casual potluck where food is out for the serving, serve your child a plate when you know they would usually eat. Waiting until too late can backfire as we all know, so instead, encourage fellow parents to come alongside you to feed the kids first so that they don't become excessively hungry. 


B.Y.O.B. (addressing the WHERE)

That's right: Bring Your Own Backrest!

So many times at group gatherings, there isn't enough room for everyone to sit. Unfortunately, this often encourages kids to graze and walk around while eating, only to leave a potluck without ever really eating anything of substance. Instead, bring your kids their own portable chairs like this one from Regalo. Unlike just lying out a blanket and expecting your kids to sit still and eat well, this chair from Regalo puts kids in a more upright position for eating at potlucks. Plus, we love how these Portable Activity Chairs by are compact and easy to carry with us to any potluck or outdoor event. It's also surprisingly easy to wipe down (or hose off!) so kids can sit and eat at it without us obsessing over the mess. I have found this portable activity chair to be especially helpful with feeding our youngest too. The weight limit for this chair is 50 pounds, so thankfully I know we will get several more years out of it even with our three year old. But it has proven especially convenient with our one year old! Although I love a good portable high chair, I can't always seem to find a spare chair to strap their portable high chair onto at potlucks. Regalo's Portable Activity Chair gives me the ease and accessibility of keeping my child safe while eating in one spot that I can easily make near me and amidst their friends.

Want to win your own portable activity chair? Enter here! Please note: Giveaway closes at midnight CST on July 21st, 2017.

Practice Family Style Meals in Advance (addressing the IF/WHETHER)

Most young children are used to their parents preparing them a plate and picky what goes on it. At places like potlucks where there may be a lot of unfamiliar foods that could make your picky eater uncomfortable, that means you will end up with only a couple of items on their plates (if you're lucky).

So set them up for success by practicing family-style serving. If you don't use this approach already, offer meals family style a few times before the upcoming potluck. This primes them to how meals can be offered at group gathering and gives them a sense of control over what they eat by being able to self-serve themselves. This is bound to minimize their fear over the uncertain foods being offered (i.e. the learning it foods) while equipping them with some age-appropriate autonomy to choose the foods they love or at least like from those being offered.


Don't call your kid a picky eater publicly (addressing the HOW MUCH)

Do you want to know one of the best ways to raise a picky eater? Keep calling them picky, especially in front of others.

The more your kid hears you identify them in this way, the more they will own this title. For example, if they know that you expect them to not eat, throw a fit, or expect an alternative to what is offered at the potluck, that is the persona they will assume publicly. Instead, don't say anything. Keep your attitude light and positive and more about the social aspect of time with family and friends than on the food your kid won't eat.


Time to Pack Up and Have a Potluck

Potlucks can be a great first exposure to informal social gatherings. They provide a natural, relaxed environment to train your kids in what is expected of them in such social settings. So help your child embrace these experiences from an early age, instead of expecting them to know how to adjust to out-of-the-norm meal times on their own. by applying a few simple techniques, don't be surprised if summer gatherings create less meal time stress and more feeding success.


Cheers to summer time and your chances to win this fun activity chair from Regalo!

Enter below to double your chances to win! Giveaway closes at midnight CST on July 21st, 2017.

The Beginner's Guide to Love it, Like it, Learning it

If you have been following Veggies & Virtue for any amount of time, you have likely heard me use the term "Love it, Like it, Learning it." In fact, my Instagram followers were privy to seeing these lunchboxes as my earliest social shares. Some of my only blog posts in the beginning told of the lessons I learned using Love it, Like it, Learning it with my oldest daughter. This past year, I shared a bit more of the inside scoop of what she loved versus is still learning with these before and after lunches.



So in attempts to further help you understand this concept in a way you can apply with your own kids, here is a run down to:

The Beginner's Guide to Love it, Like it, Learning it

What is “Love it, Like it, Learning it?”

“Love It, Like It, Learning It” is a feeding approach that fosters exposure to a variety of foods. This approach minimizes age-appropriate pickiness while creating a well-rounded food environment, even for the most apprehensive (i.e. pickiest) of eaters. With a foundation in the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, “Love It, Like It, Learning It” can help kids develop a taste for healthier food without a fight. Through the simple saying and straight-forward strategies, parents can quickly begin to build better meal plans, offer more variety, and lead their families to eating more real food on a regular basis.


What are “Love it,” “Like it,” and “Learning it” foods?

Love It Foods: Foods your child consistently likes and preferentially favors compared to all others. These are foods your child eats most of the time.

Like It Foods: Foods your child usually likes but may eat less (or none) of when offered alongside “love it” foods. These are foods your child eats some of the time they are offered.

Learning It Foods: Foods your child rarely (if ever) likes and may or may not have ever been exposed to before. These are foods your child eats almost none of the time they are offered.


Why use a “Love it, Like it, Learning it” approach?

The first several years of a child’s life are crucial for developing healthy eating behaviors. Setting the foundation for future eating habits and taste preferences to develop, these early years are when children begin to be exposed to a wide variety of real foods. Many children however, especially those between the ages of 2-5 years, face food neophobia, or the fear of new foods.

Parents often misunderstand this age-appropriate behavior as rebellion, stubbornness, or defiance when in reality picky eating is a normal part of childhood. Instead of handling it as an expected part of raising a healthy eater, parents often resort to bribery, coercion, and food wars in attempts to force their child to eat the foods being offered. Just as bad, some parents may become short-order cooks and only offer LOVE IT or LIKE It FoodS to accommodate their child’s picky eating. None of these approaches work, however.

Alternatively, research shows that kids need to be exposed to LEARNING It Foods upwards of 12-20 times. Many parents either prematurely burn out on offering these foods this many times, or they become discouraged when their child seems to repeatedly refuse them. This leads parents to assume their child “doesn’t like it” too early, rather than viewing it as their child “still learning” a new, unfamiliar food.


How does a “Love it, Like it, Learning it” approach work?

Much like learning to swim or ride a bike, learning something new is often a little uncomfortable for kids at first. It takes a lot of repeated exposure partnered with the time, effort, and patience of both the parent and child. However, when children are allowed the freedom to learn in a conducive, non-coercive environment, the new skill slowly but surely begins to properly develop.

Much is the same with raising a child who becomes what pediatric feeding expert Ellyn Satter calls a “competent eater.”

For kids, pairing LOVE IT or LIKE IT foods with LEARNING IT foods makes new foods appear less threatening. Research shows that when familiar and unfamiliar foods are offered together, it may make children more likely to try the unfamiliar, LEARNING IT food (especially for the neophobic child).

Over time, offering meals in this way also helps to reshape how your child expects foods to be offered. Rather than expecting every meal to be made up of only their favorites, they understand that family meals include a variety of foods that each member of the family enjoys. Children become calm and confident around new foods, rather than anxious and irritated. This also helps children to understand that there will always be foods they are “still learning” while adapting and/or accepting them at their own pace.

For parents, pairing LOVE IT or LIKE It foods with LEARNING IT foods offers peace of mind that there is always something being offered that their kid should/could/usually would eat. This lessens the meal time stress of “what to make” for a picky eater. It eliminates the tendency to offer back-ups when the initial meal is turned down. It re-establishes a Division of Responsibility in feeding for your family that restores enjoyment for family meals. It also draws the line that if a child chooses not to eat the LOVE IT or LIKE IT foods being offered, that’s on them. More commonly what parents see is that when offered in a non-threatening manner, kids begin to learn how to expand their diets over time to accept more real foods.


Where should I go to get help with implementing “Love it, Like it, Learning it” in my own home?

I am glad you asked! You have a few options, depending on how invested you are in quick, effective implementation.

  • Follow Veggies & Virtue on Instagram and Facebook

  • Search #loveitlikeitlearningit on Instagram to find new ideas from me and to see how others are using it in their homes

  • Subscribe to my weekly newsletter so you see it shown on every meal plan I send out.

  • Use the worksheet download below to begin offering love it, like it, and learning it foods to your littles. With it, you are given suggestions for 150 kid-friendly foods and a Love it, Like it, Learning it template to fill in using the foods that are unique to your child's food preferences. This is the most actionable place to start if you ready to expand your child's diet.

Now it's time to act.

If you are wanting to help equip your child to be a "competent eater" (as Ellyn Satter so well defines it), now is your time to take action. Start using this approach in your home, while too getting the help you need to help your family succeed. I can't wait to hear of your success once you get started!