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 by not offering that particular food again that day or maybe even in the day(s) after as well. This promotes variety in their overall diet without feeling the need to restrict at a given eating opportunity.

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!

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 let alone touch or taste 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.

As parents from my free Love it, Like it, Learning it Challenge and The Academy know, we have to move beyond this and work to help our children branch out with the foods they eat using a framework that offers both preferred and non-preferred foods.


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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 from The Love it, Like it, Learning it Academy are seeing how transformative this framework can be when they work through the steps of establishing it with added support and accountability.

Want to get started with Love it, Like it, Learning it?

1. Download the free worksheet here:

2. Join my next Free 3-day Love it, Like it, Learning it Challenge.

In The Love it, Like it, Learning it 3-day Challenge, I walk you through making your own custom Love it, Like it, Learning it list so you have the springboard set up to begin using the framework immediately. I run these challenges quarterly, so make sure you are signed up for the next one!

3. Sign up for The Love it, Like it, Learning it Academy

The Love it, Like it, Learning it Academy is an 8-week group coaching program that teaches you, as the parent, the secrets and steps to helping your child learn to like new foods with weekly email tutorials, live group virtual training sessions, live Q&As, and a private Academy-member only Facebook group. The Academy only opens a few times a year, so enroll or get on the waiting list ASAP!

How to Handle Holiday Feeding Struggles

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Healthy Height. All opinions are my own.

The holidays offer one of “the best times of the year!” Between the food, family, friends, and festivities, there is so much I know we each find ourselves thankful for.

Inevitably amidst a season of gratitude and giving though, we parents too face a lot of stress when it comes to feeding our kids. Whether we have children who are apprehensive eaters or who eat everything, we are bound to still face holiday feeding struggles.

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That’s why this week, I have partnered with Healthy Height to bring you an article on, “7 Holiday Feeding Struggles and How to Handle Them.” In the article, I walk you through the following seven common holiday feeding struggles:

  • Struggle 1: The Child Who Won’t Eat What’s Offered

  • Struggle 2: The Child Who Doesn’t Like What’s Offered

  • Struggle 3: The Child Who’s Hungry Right After the Meal

  • Struggle 4: The Child Who’s Too Distracted to Eat

  • Struggle 5: The Child Who Throws a Fit at a Family Meal

  • Struggle 6: The Child With Relatives That Eat Differently

  • Struggle 7: The Child Who Handle Feeding Differently

No matter what holiday meal you find your family gathered around, I provide both simple solutions as well as practical strategies to set you and your family up for a season of success (so you don’t go into the holiday season stressing over these common struggles). Read the whole article here.

There is a reason they are considered COMMON! You’re not the only one wondering how to handle all the “what ifs” of if (or more likely when) these struggles happen over the holidays. Even as a dietitian mom I face these in my own family (did you read my reflection post from last week on Thanksgiving 2017?!). That's why I am honored for the chance to chime in personally and professionally with how to best handle each of these holiday feeding struggles.

For more from this article, visit my post:

7 Holiday Feeding Struggles and How to Handle Them

How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids

Y'all, these videos by Jimmy Fallon each year crack me up.

Not because I am some sick dietitian who just loves to see kid's Halloween candy taken from them, but rather because they show just a glimpse at how much kid's. love. candy.

How to handle Halloween candy with kids isn't a new issue of parenthood, nor does it come to any surprise to dietitians. I know it is one that a lot of you are probably wondering about though as we sit here just days away from Halloween.

Before we jump in though to talk about 13 lucky little lessons for how you can handle all that Halloween candy once it makes its way into your home, I want to encourage each of you to enjoy the festivities (including some nutritionally-absent food options in candy) on Halloween. On Halloween night, don’t stress over the sugar. Just cherish the times with your kids. See the joy in their eyes. Embrace their sticky fingers. Teach them to listen to their tummies. Foster freedom around food. Brush their teeth. Tuck them in agreeing that the day was the “best day ever” (in their innocent eyes).

Then tomorrow, you can begin to implement the following ideas for how all foods fit - including all that candy they carried home.

How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids

Want to know how to make Halloween candy with kids a little less spooky?
Read these 13 lucky little lessons from a dietitian mom.

1) Remember the Basics of the Division of Responsibility.

If you want the most simple way to break down how I think we should handle allowing our kids to have Halloween candy, it all comes back to the basics of Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility. As a reminder, it is our job to determine what, when, and where our child eats. It is our child's job to determine if/whether and how much they eat. Connecting the dots between this and how it relates to Halloween candy, that means it is our job as the parent to set boundaries around what candy/treat is offered, when your child has it available, and where your child is allowed to eat it. Then, you can transfer the control and trust to let them determine if/whether and how much they eat (keep reading).

2) Don't make Halloween candy feel forbidden.

The more you can keep Halloween candy neutral, the better. Research is clear that kids who grow up in an environment where restriction, pressuring, and bribing is used (to get them to eat either a certain way or a certain amount), the more often they crave forbidden foods like candy. Maybe you can relate? If you were raised in a family where sweets and treats were overly off limits, you may find yourself struggling with self-control when it comes to common triggers like candy. Conversely, when approaches like the Division of Responsibility are used as the main form of food parenting, our kids learn how to self-regulate all foods, including candy. So even though it may seem as though a more strict food environment serves our kids well when it comes to Halloween candy, remember that the more restricted this highly appealing food becomes, the more your tactics may backfire.

3) Consider your kid.

I’m not saying to cater to the sugar obsessed kid and become totally permissive as a parent. What I am saying is to address their sugar obsession head on. Rather than forbid them from eating these preferred sweets more because you know they tend to obsess over them, consider creating a more liberal dessert policy in this season to help see it past. By offering these foods more often for a given period of time, you can establish an environment that shows you trust your child(ren) to listen to their bodies and make healthy choices. Kids in turn learn to trust their own intrinsic cues while still appropriately managing cravings and making smart food choices. While kids don't need added sugars in their diets (see the next point), a small amount for a given period of time can help take it off its preferred food pedestal.

4) Determine "enough."

While the Division of Responsibility deems it the child's role to determine if/whether and how much our child eats of a given food, there are exceptions to this when it comes to candy and dessert. This gets a bit confusing but in general comes back to parents finding smart strategies for what amount of candy is age-appropriate or rather “enough,” so that it doesn’t crowd out healthier options of food but also doesn’t restrict the sweet stuff so much that kids cravings for it increase (beyond expected). The dietitian in me would say no amount is necessary. The mom in me, however, realizes that a 90:10 food philosophy allows just enough flex room with food, especially in seasons like these. So if you are wanting a number of pieces of candy per day that gets the pass, you can review this calculation to find a general gauge for how much added sugar still falls within appropriate limits. You can also read more here for ideas on how you can determine healthy in your home, encourage pleasure, and promote self-regulation so “a little can go a long way” with candy and other foods that fall in the 10% (of discretionary calories).

5) Be clear and consistent.

Being clear about when your child can eat Halloween candy during the day (or scattered throughout the week) helps keep both of you sane until the candy bowl runs out (or gets forgotten about!). Amidst your child's frequent initial asking for Halloween candy, decide on a consistent answer for when they can expect to have it using a predetermined time of day. While this may differ from family to family in timing and frequency, it is important that you stay consistent. This makes it so candy isn't the dangling carrot in front of their nose that they always chase and yet never actually get to enjoy. It also makes it less tempting to use tactics like bribing (i.e. "If you eat all of your dinner, you can have a piece of Halloween candy). Instead, these clear and consistent expectations take the pressure off of you from daily deciding if/when to allow it and in what amount, while also freeing up your child's mental energy to focus on something other than an elusive forbidden food.

6) Determine the when.

Just as we talk about the aspects that fall under the parent's role with the Division of Responsibility, also comes the clear and consistent expectations around the when candy is offered. Just as we addressed above when each day candy will be offered, here I want to highlight the when in terms of how long it will be offered. Determine for your family the following: When is Halloween candy welcome in your home? For one day post-Halloween? One week? One month? Until it runs out? While some kids do forget about candy when it is kept out of sight and out of mind, other kids tend to do better with time limits that are set for the whole family. In our house, all candy is over my the time of my husband's birthday (which conveniently is November 6th). This helps us to enjoy it for the week following Halloween, but then get back to our normal eating habits and family dessert policy of desserts only on weekends and birthdays.

7) Include Halloween candy as a snack.

Crazy, right? Especially when I tell each of my coaching clients to use snacks to fill in nutritional gaps with non-traditional "snack foods." But that can be done here too simply by pairing the candy alongside a more nutrient-dense item like a glass of milk, side of fruit or veggies with dip, or handful of nuts (age permitting to prevent choking). When spaced appropriately with scheduled meals and snacks, offering Halloween candy as part of a child's snack makes it so it doesn't compete with more nutrient rich meals.

8) Find other nutritionally void foods to cut.

While it might sound crazy to offer candy as a snack, think of all the nutritionally poor options we default to offering out kids for snacks. From snack crackers to fruit snacks and roll-ups, it isn't the calories in these I am concerned about. It is the fact that those calories come at a valuable cost: the real estate in our kid's stomachs. So take this as an opportunity to become more intentional about when you are working to get in important nutrients. While candy isn't an ideal option to be offering, it can compel you to think through what other, everyday options you otherwise may have offered that also are nutritionally void. Start making a commitment to watch for added sugar in the other foods you offer, and gradually choose healthier, lower added sugar alternatives. While the new food labels are only rolled out on some food products so far, you can still look at the ingredient list to identify sources of added sugar. Then consider how you can make healthier choices to cut down the added sugar in your family's everyday favorites. This will create a habit that serves your family well far after the candy runs out.

9) Keep candy out of sight.

Just watch, and I think you’ll be surprised about how much more out of mind candy becomes if their pumpkin pale isn’t on the counter in plain sight. As mentioned from a study I shared on this post about five ways to curb sugar cravings in kids, keeping candy out of plain view helps keeps not to focus on it as frequently. The less they think about it, the less they ask for it, the less of a nonstop issue it needs to be from a nutritional standpoint. So put it away and wait until your child asks for it. Chances are that even before all of the candy gets consumed, your child will forget to ask for it at the set time (discussed above) and your family can just move on without it again.

10) Talk about the characteristics of candy.

If you want your child to wolf down their candy, help remove each piece from the wrapper and prepare to see your kid mindlessly go after it. Instead, let me suggest you try this. Use inquiry-based learning to slow down the eating process. Ask questions about a candy’s taste, texture, flavor, color, size, etc., to help your child slow down and savor their candy. Just as we as adults have to remind ourselves to do this, let's equip our children at a young age to be mindful eating. Not restrictive from any one food (no food allergies, permitting), but rather remind them to be mindful about each morsel they put into their mouths. Not only does this help our kids to learn to appreciate specific elements to fun “sometimes” foods (in these off seasons when they are offered), but this helps our kids to consume less as well. For more on avoiding labels around Halloween candy or other “forbidden foods,” read this article on Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar.”

11) Look at behaviors beyond the candy bowl.

We obsess so much about if/whether our kids eat Halloween candy that we divert our focus and honestly our accountability from the constant, day to day feeding behaviors we have irregardless of Halloween. While it is of obvious importance to limit added sugars as an overall feeding principle in our families, we also need to keep in mind that there are likely many other feeding behaviors that we could improve on also. So rather than getting too focused on the candy at hand, let's also take Halloween as an opportunity to consider what other feeding habits we could pay closer attention to.

12) Consider other creative options.

Just as Elf of the Shelf took the Christmas season by storm, many parents are also adopting a "Switch Witch" for handling the candy after Halloween. Many local dentist offices also participate in candy swap out programs, so ask your child's dentist if they do something list this.

13) Transition into a season of Gratitude.

As October ends and a time for Thanksgiving nears, teach your kids to consider how they could serve others with their candy. This may be sending the candy to troops, donating it to Ronald McDonald House for sick children who couldn't trick or treat, or by making a visit to a local elderly facility to share it with them. From a work site wellness standpoint, I tend to not encourage parents taking it all to work with them as the alternative. Instead, engage your kids in community outreach ideas that will help others to enjoy the candy when they otherwise wouldn't be mobilized on their own to do so.

Final Challenge: Be Big Picture About It

However you choose to handle all of that leftover Halloween candy with your kids, remember the big picture. Our goal in even having this conversation is to instill in our children a healthy relationship with all foods - even those that we don't always love or want them eating a lot of like candy. By teaching them when it's appropriate and how to self-regulate these types of foods, we empower them to handle all of the Halloweens to come with confidence around candy. That is no costume, but rather a true eating competence to aim for within each of our families.

Happy Halloween to all of you, my favorite guys and ghouls!

Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Super Simple Online. All opinions are my own.

As we countdown to all the candy of Halloween with much anticipation by kids and often fear from parents, I want to spend the next few weeks highlighting some simple takeaways when it comes to the sticky subject of sugar.


This week, I am sharing a post I previously wrote over on Super Simple Online, titled “Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar.” While we may have fast-forwarded six months to another holiday season centered around sugar since it was published, the principles I share regarding sugar remain the same:

  1. Understand the real problem.

  2. Define healthy in your home. 

  3. Avoid labels. 

  4. Encourage pleasure. 

  5. Avoid reward. 

  6. Practice self-regulation.

If you’d like to learn more about each of these and how to handle the sticky subject of sugar in your home, visit my post:

Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar

Managing Meals as a New Mom

My husband is hard-working. My mom is a natural Nana. My nearby sister-in-law has survived to share what it’s like to mother three amazing kids. Yet despite a solid support system gathering around for the birth of our third child, close family and friends are still left to figure out the innards of our kitchen.

Consider the feeding basics that are intuitive to us but likely unknown to others:

When do we offer our daughters milk versus water?

Do we give snacks whenever the girls ask or is there structure around what, when, and where food is offered?

Are there foods we can or can’t send to school in the girl's lunchboxes?

What kind of bread do we buy?

Do we have anything ready for dinner?

What happens if the girls choose not to eat what's offered?

These may seem like overly simplistic basics to even address to some. They may be too obvious or totally unnecessary to answer to others. However no matter what your family dynamic is when entering into this exciting new season with a newborn, recognize that these little nuances in each family are what make us who we are.

They establish normalcy, create ease, and maintain security, especially with young ones whose eating habits may not be as clearly established or easy to articulate as with older kids or adults. They are also the key details that redirect the stress of making meals into the more-efficient process of managing meals as a new mom-- among as many hands as you have available to help.


For this reason, I think we can best prepare ourselves, our children, and our family's generous helpers in the upcoming season by eliminating the need for others to ask us seven-hundred questions  about food/feeding (or the tendency to always wing it when they can't!) and rather equipping them with helpful info for how to handle all things meal- and snack-related on their own.


This post will outline how to plan ahead for managing meals as a new mom.

As shared on previous posts about the Division of Responsibility in feeding, the more you can maintain the adult's role in feeding versus the child's amidst the "newness" of having a newborn, the less stressful it will be on everyone. Use the following links and guides to help you and whomever you have helping to assume your/their role as the adult while still encouraging your child in their roles as well!

Resources on WHAT to feed

Meal Plans

If you didn't catch my post on Freezer Meals to Make Before A Baby this month, be sure to check out those meal ideas here. In the post, you will have access to a download with the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas I actually used to prep ahead some freezer meal (and snack) favorites for our family!

You can also look back to the first half of 2018 and the family meal plans I included via the thumbnails below. While these posts only share ideas for the main course (as all the sides were already shared with newsletter subscribers (become a subscriber here!), they may help you think of some recipes you might want to make (or ask a friend or family to make on your behalf!) when in a tired-of-ordering-pizza-every-night rut. Some recipes are more involved while others are ready in under 15 minutes, so scroll through to see which ones sound both tasty and practical to you and your family!


Snack Ideas

While I have some favorite "go-to" snacks with my kids (and for myself!) shared on the freezer meals printable (available here), below are a few older blog posts that also might help give you some ideas for healthy snack options - be it at the pool for the final push of summer or non-perishable favorites to send as your children go back to school.


Love it, Like it, Learning it Meals

For FAQs on Love it, Like it, Learning it and a FREE download you can use as your template to writing out what foods your child loves, likes, and is still learning (with 150 suggestions for kid-friendly foods to categorize), visit this post. Having a list of foods on hand to help others know what your kid "does and doesn't like" makes figuring out what combinations of foods to offer at meals easier on everyone while still emphasizing the importance of ongoing exposure to new, "learning it" foods!

You can also coach caretakers on how to use a Love it, Like it, Learning it approach at meal times by sharing this article on How to Feed a Toddler at Meal Times.


Meal Planning Templates

This postpartum, I have a calendar of our whole first month penciled in with what dinners we are making from our freezer stash, some easy, ready-made options, when I anticipate meals will be made for us, and the occasional takeout too. For breakfast and lunches, I have seven ideas penciled in that we will use on rotation each week using the templates available here, modifying as needed (but hopefully not much until I have my bearings a bit more). Having these templates filled out helps me to already have ideas for what we will eat, so in my sleep-deprived state I don't have to also think about what to make nor if we have the ingredients on hand to make these menu ideas!


Grocery List

I plan to rely heavily on grocery pick-up in the postpartum window. In general though, I keep a magnetic grocery list up on my fridge so I can use that as my reference when I go online to place our grocery order. While magnetic lists are not currently available (will re-order and begin shipping again after maternity leave), you can access my free grocery download using the link below.


Costco List

Instacart does not yet service our zip code yet, but for many regions, you could order from Costco online as well. I created this guide as a visual grocery list for my 55 items I most heavily rely on getting at Costco. I can print, circle, and send this list with my husband to reference on his way home from work when he swings into Costco or while my parents while they're in town. Either way, they know the items to look for when I request a given item (without having to call or FaceTime me every 17 seconds to ask, "Is this the ________ you buy/want?").

Resources on WHEN to feed

Daily Routine

Life needs to always remain flexible with kids, but there is something to be said for consistency and routine that makes the "newness" of seasons like having a new sibling easier for everyone to handle. That's why even if my kids aren't eating as many homemade nor well-rounded meals as our usual (during this postpartum period), I would say I care just as much (if not more!) that they are fed on as consistent of a routine as possible. I find with kids, it is easier to get "back on track" with the WHAT we feed after a season with more convenient foods than it is to reset their stomachs and appetites to a meal and snack schedule (after a season when grazing could easily become the norm!).

To help keep their meals and snacks happening around the same time each day, I use this daily routine template. This allows me to pencil in what they have from the moment they wake up through bedtime, but two sheets could also be used if you are including an infant feeding schedule with overnight bottle feeds.

Resources on WHERE to feed

At the Table

I hear parents, grandparents, and virtually all caretakers struggle with how to keep kids seated for meal times. So while these tips and tricks can be applied in a variety of places where food might be offered, the aim is that indeed we are conditioning our children to sit at the table for long enough for them to fuel their bodies until food is offered again. Rather than battle your child to "just sit still," read this article for Seven Ways to Keep Your Child Seated Through Meals (and share it with those who will be feeding your kids after baby comes too for added reinforcement!).


At School

Whether you have a child in Mom’s Day Out only a couple of hours a week, a preschooler in daycare full-time, or a school-aged child needing packed lunches for elementary each day, packing lunches takes an extra bit of effort and attention - especially if being packed by a caretaker who isn't used to owning this role.

To help them out with "what to pack," review these Five Secrets to Lunch Packing Success that I share over on the Super Simple blog [sponsored post]. Then, be sure to share any pertinent specifics for your child and/or their school with anyone who might be helping you pack lunches in the postpartum period. You can also download the a printable that runs through similar steps using the button below.

Resources on IF/WHETHER to eat

Family Food Rules

Handling how to have others feed our kids (when we are away/unable to) is constantly a topic of conversation and often an area of tension within families. While we might not always be able to get family members or friends to adopt our approach to what, when, or where they feed our children, something we can continue to articulate is our desire for HOW they feed our kids in terms of a pressure-free approach.

Just as you would respectfully share your approaches to discipline or sleep routines with a caregiver, consider discussing what some of your "family food rules" are before your new baby comes. Then, practice role modeling what this looks like to caregivers BEFORE baby is here with whatever meals such caregivers might be around to observe and engage in. Use this time to allow them to ask questions about What is the Division of Responsibility and How to Establish the Division of Responsibility. Furthermore, consider posting a list of feeding expectations up on the fridge for all to reference (like this 7 Steps to Feeding Success one). While this doesn't ensure that everyone will feed your child just like you would, it can help to redefine the boundaries you desire around the feeding environment.

In Summary

Remember it is just a Season

No matter what happens after a baby is born (or any time of major transition, really!), remember that children are adaptable. They will go with the flow often more easily than we as moms do and they can adjust back to healthy old habits or create new ones (when necessary) with consistency and reinforcement as things settle down. So even if mac and cheese is on the menu for the first month straight, remember there is grace in motherhood that will also cover some of the shortcomings in a season where our children might have nutritional voids or less than ideal eating habits.

If it gives you more peace of mind and helps your child to meet their daily nutritional needs better, you can also consider adding in supplements for the nutrients in food groups you know tend to be harder to reinforce and re-expose. My friends over at Feeding Littles have an excellent round-up of recommendations on Supplements for Infants and Children that might be worth reading and investing in.

Otherwise, I hope the above tools will help you to feel a bit more prepared and at peace about how to handle meals as a new mom. You got this!