This original post has been revised for better clarity and the removal of inactive links, but original quotes were untouched.
In the theme of “putting your best fork forward,” I asked some dietitians who are also moms to share how they choose to nourish and feed their families.
Common Themes of How Dietitian Nutritionists Feed Their Kids
Common themes you’ll notice:
- Offering a variety of foods
- No labeling of “good” foods vs. “bad” or “junk” foods
- Balanced meals
- Advantages of meal prep and a well-stocked kitchen
- Involving kids in the mealtime process, from grocery shopping to meal prep, food choices (i.e. “should we serve green beans or broccoli for dinner tonight?”), recipe selection, helping cook, and serving themselves.
The Division of Responsibility of Feeding
One thing mentioned that is a really valuable tool is the division of responsibility of feeding from the Ellyn Satter Institute. This is a great method to reduce mealtime stress and focus on your jobs and what you can control as the caregiver or parent, versus your child’s jobs and what they can control (and you cannot). As listed on the Ellyn Satter website:
Your jobs with feeding are to . . .
- Choose and prepare the food.
- Provide regular meals and snacks.
- Make eating times pleasant.
- Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.
- Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.
- Not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
- Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to . . .
- Eat the amount he needs.
- Learn to eat the food you eat.
- Grow predictably in the way that is right for him.
- Learn to behave well at mealtime.
This can definitely take practice, but in my own experience as both a registered dietitian and a mom, it’s incredibly helpful and can take a lot of stress and frustration from mealtimes!
How Dietitian Moms Feed Their Families
There are 3 key things I focus on when nourishing my family around the dinner table:
1. Embracing mess – adventure in eating can look like a Picasso painting or a murder scene – eye of the beholder!
2. Balanced plates – our family loves variety and we make sure we challenge the taste buds with variety.
3. Food isn’t a big deal – we believe that the dinner table isn’t a battleground, we honor the division of responsibility set forth by Ellyn Satter and let the rest go.
Sure, nutrition is important, but I don’t approach the plate as a bunch of nutrients, instead I focus on flavor, texture, and variety.Wendy Jo Peterson, MS, RD Co-Author of Born to Eat & Mediterranean Diet Cookbook For Dummies
I take pride in sneaking fruits and veggies into any and all recipes, for example, black bean brownies are a hit in my household and not because of the black beans. 🙂– Brianne Meek, RD, LDN (mother of 2 young, picky boys)
Exposure to all foods from a young age. There are no “kids” foods or “adult” foods in our household. My two young boys eat (almost) everything: from octopus to lentils.– Elena Paravantes, RDN, Mediterranean Diet Consultant
I try to view feeding my family as a welcome challenge rather than a frustration. Whether it’s consistently getting a healthy meal on the table each night, working with my toddler to help her learn to accept a varied, healthy diet or making time to nourish my pregnant body, feeding my family is a big way that I show them love. So I try my best to keep up a positive attitude about it!– Diana K. Rice, RD, The Baby Steps Dietitian
When it comes to feeding my family, I focus on easy-to-find everyday ingredients, nourishing and adventurous recipes, and healthy twists on old favorites. Flavor is my number-one goal, because I believe that when your healthy meals look and taste great, everyone gets excited to eat them.– Liz Weiss, RDN, Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen
My freezer is my best friend! I freeze portions of leftovers in a Beaba silicone tray (or ice cube tray!) to ensure a healthy toddler meal is on hand in 30 seconds in the microwave! I have an arsenal of bagged frozen produce so it is always available, making it easy to add peas to pasta or frozen berries to cool down hot oatmeal! (I also try not to make my toddler separate meals; he eats what we are eating, even if it’s a deconstructed version.) He’s joined us at the table since he was old enough to sit up in his high chair, so he’s used to family meals and it’s much more appetizing to see his parents eating the same foods!– Therese Bonanni, MS, RD; mom to 2 year old Peter
I try to get the family involved looking for recipes and helping me with the food shopping list. Also on the weekends we cook together. I find they are more inclined to tasting when they have helped with the process.– Janet Brancato, MS, RD www.mynutopia.com
I prep some foods in advance (i.e. chopped veggies, fruits, etc for the week); and I encourage my 8-year-old girls to help me create and assemble meals/snacks such as guacamole dip, veggie-loaded pizzas, and egg dishes. I also take them with me to the Farmer’s Market so they can pick out the produce they love or find something new to try.– Lauren O’Connor, MS, RD http://nutrisavvyhealth.com
I keep it real. I don´t strive for perfection when it comes to feeding my family well. I focus on the big picture—a wide variety of nutritious foods, more shared meals at home and allowing my children to have control over what they sample from the plate. It´s about practice more than perfection. –Denine Marie, MPH, RDN of healthyoutofhabit.com
As a non-diet dietitian and mom, my goal is to raise confident and competent eaters rather than super healthy eaters. I believe that kids (and adults) are great at self-moderating their food choices if given the opportunity to practice. To me the idea of “put your best fork forward” is teaching my kids how to connect with their own intuitive signals of hunger, fullness and satisfaction to guide their choices instead of relying on outside rules or guidelines. I hope to do this by providing them opportunities to practice intuitive eating by encouraging them to eat undistracted in the kitchen, to plate their food and sit down with it and even describe how the food tastes, smells and looks. A balanced approach to food is a natural consequence of satisfying, positive mindful eating practices. I want that for them. If I spend a lot of time micromanaging their food choices or discussing “good” vs “bad” foods, they won’t have the opportunity to be curious or learn by experience. By focusing less on what they eat, we have more room to talk about how, when, why and where they eat, creating positive and healthy behaviors around food. “Put your best fork forward” will look different for everyone. I hope my kids will always be true to themselves in the choices they make.– Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT at emilyfonnesbeck.com
Now, for my fellow moms out there: how do you focus on nourishing your families?