Responsive Feeding

Adopting parenting skills to encourage healthy behaviors for the whole family
By Brittany Lightsey, MS, RD, LD

November 2014

November Child eating dinnerOne of the biggest struggles I have as a pediatric dietitian without kiddos is providing you with strategies to make meal time healthful and stress-free. I hate hearing from moms who turn into short-order cooks, preparing 2 to 3 meals each night to satisfy picky eaters or from dads who run through drive-throughs just to juggle after-school activities and getting home in time to finish homework. Parenting is tough. Yes, I am preaching to the choir, but I want you to know that this dietitian is on your side. You have a hard job, so let me provide you with evidence-based strategies to better understand your role as a parent in the development of healthy feeding practices for your child.

Parenting 101
Although you may not realize it, everyday choices you make as a parent influence your child’s relationship with food. Think about it. You determine what foods are available (even though you may have a screaming child in your grocery cart influencing your decision-making power), portion sizes that your child is offered, how often your child eats, and the social context when eating occurs. Each of these is an opportunity for positive influence on healthy behaviors.

Let’s break it down a little further, using Strong4Life’s Ps and Cs*:

Parents plan, prepare, provide.
Plan meal and snack times. Routines are very important in a child’s development. Think about keeping the kitchen “closed” outside of set feeding times. This will encourage eating healthier foods and discourage grazing on energy-dense foods.

Prepare healthy meals and snacks. Fruits and vegetables should be offered with all meals and snacks. Also, meals should include a variety of foods – not just one food such as chicken noodle soup. Add a salad to encourage veggies.

Provide with patience, praise, and positivity. Role model healthy eating behaviors. Incorporate new fruits and vegetables in your family menu and praise your children for trying them too. Provide a positive eating environment. Sit together as a family during meals and make the dinner table a no-screen zone – no TVs, cell phones, or tablets allowed. Discourage forbidden foods – all foods fit into a healthy meal pattern in moderation, plus forbidden foods encourage sneaking.

Children choose.
Choose if they will eat, what to eat, and how much from the food provided. If your child is telling you he or she doesn’t like carrots, then that’s a-OK. Do not prepare something different as this will reinforce picky eating behaviors, and you will find yourself cooking more than one meal every night. There is research to show that kids will not go to bed hungry. If they do not like what is offered, try it again later. Kids pressured to eat specific foods learn not to like them. After all, it may take up to 17 introductions to a food before a child actually decides he or she likes it.

Bottom line: you are your child’s provider. Providing with positivity will keep everyone happy and healthy!

*Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Strong4Life. The Ps and Cs. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Inc; 2012. Available at: Accessed October 24, 2014.


November Family Eating TogetherRecipe of the Month

Faking a Homemade Dinner
From Kids Eat Right


Rotisserie chicken
Frozen mashed potatoes
Frozen peas and carrots or broccoli

Stop by your local grocery store instead of a fast-food restaurant on a busy weeknight. Pick up a rotisserie chicken from the deli and vegetables from the freezer section. Pop veggies in the microwave and serve the meal with an 8-ounce glass of reduced-fat or fat-free milk. Voila! A balanced meal prepared in a matter of minutes.

Nutrition Tips

  • Frozen veggies are flash frozen at their peak of harvest, meaning that they may have more vitamins and minerals than fresh produce. Choose often!
  • Serve chicken without the skin to reduce fat in your family’s meal.
  • Use left-over rotisserie chicken in chicken salad or on top of a fresh bed of greens for an easy left-over meal.