Kids at the Table

Family dinner time can be a wonderful experience, but for many parents, it is a source of frustration. Concerns about children getting adequate nutrition and whether they will eat the meal you prepared can be overwhelming. What if there were a way to reduce this mealtime stress? Good news! There is, and it is simpler than you think.

The most successful approach to childhood feeding is to think about distinct roles for the adults and children and stick to those roles. Divvy things up as follows:

Adults Decide:

What, Where, and When to Eat

Kids Decide:

Whether and How Much to Eat

That’s it! As the parent, you put the food on the table at a given time and just… let go. What you’ll find is:

  • Kids are good at self-regulating
  • The more pressure you put on them to eat, the more likely they are to get out of tune with their own bodies and needs*
  • These roles remove common pressures faced by kids and adults at mealtime
  • This approach creates the foundation for a healthy relationship with food

Just as kids learn science and math, it is a process for them to discover the eating approach that is right for them. Rather than attempting to get your child to eat a certain type or amount of food, consider the following:

Goals to support your child’s development:

  1. Provide a consistent, supportive environment
  2. Create a space where kids can explore without pressure
  3. Raise intuitive eaters with healthy eating habits

Did You Know?
A child needs to be offered a food over 12 times before it becomes familiar.

What should I feed them?
What should I feed them?

It is the parent’s job to decide what the kids eat.

You are in the driver’s seat when it comes to what food is in the house and what ultimately makes it to the table. To get started with establishing a supportive food environment, check out:

What if they don't eat it?
What if they don't eat it?

The idea of trusting kids to decide whether to eat can be daunting. While it’s true that sometimes kids might be completely uninterested in a meal (and that’s ok!), there are a few strategies you can use to increase the likelihood they’ll eat some of what’s on the table.

Involve them in:

  • Meal Planning – explore our seasonal meals as a family
  • Making Grocery Lists – kids can help add items to your online shopping list
  • Prepping and Cooking – check out our cooking techniques and engage them in kid-friendly jobs (e.g., washing produce, pouring sauce)
  • The Kitchen – set up a space that is welcoming and accessible to tiny hands

Take their preferences into account

  • Offer favorite or familiar foods at each meal – this creates a comfortable space and provides something they will likely eat
  • Choose nights when they get to decide what’s for dinner

These tips are a great way to empower children, help them develop life skills, and acknowledge their individual tastes.

“This has been a game changer for my family. My child will eat anything that we cook together with them!” Jenna S.

Increase Enjoyment and Decrease Stress at Mealtime
Remove the pressure knowing that you aren’t responsible for getting a child to eat specific foods or to eat at all. Children can learn to trust that parents will provide nourishing food consistently while learning to trust their ability to understand their own body cues.

“We had this same concern at first, but our three boys have taught us we do not need to hold on so tight. There are times they demolish their dinners and other times they barely eat. It balances out! They are in the best position to know what their bodies need at any given time.” Kirby Branciforte, RDN, Wegmans Nutritionist

School Lunches and Snacks
School Lunches and Snacks

Try our three easy ideas for lunches and snacks to help your family build healthy eating habits.


Lunch Box Builder

View Activity Sheet


Snack with the Power of 3

View PDF


Eat a Rainbow

View Activity Sheet

Additional Resources

Video Recorded September 21, 2023

*This information has been developed based on a childhood feeding approach known as The Division of Responsibility developed by Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter. It is meant for education and informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or supplement recommendations from your healthcare provider.

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