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Parents and children are partners for healthy eating. In being partners, parents and children share food tasks—parents have certain jobs and so do the children, but these jobs are different from each other. This publication provides tips for helping you care for your child.
As the adult, it is your responsibility to prepare meals. Children can help you with meal preparation. However, allowing children to choose the foods they want from the kitchen cupboard or refrigerator is not OK. If you are away at mealtimes, you need to make arrangements with the caregiver for meals and snacks.
Research shows children have to see a food several times before they will try it and several more times before they learn to like it. In fact, it could take up to ten to fifteen times for a child to accept a food. Adults can set a good example by eating all types of food.
For young children to eat every two to three hours, planning three meals a day and snacks between meals is necessary. Young children have small stomachs--about the size of your fist--and they cannot hold enough food to last five or six hours. Snacks are very important and healthy choices should be offered. Low fat or nonfat milk and water are the healthiest beverage choices for children over the age of two. Juice does not offer any benefit over whole fruit and can fill small tummies quickly and satisfy appetites without supplying all the nutrition a child needs. If served, limit to 4-6 ounces of 100% juice for children over one year of age and one third cup for infants six months to one year per day.
Both the parent and child are responsible for making meals and snack times pleasant but the parent is the leader. Do not pressure children to eat. Let children take their time eating, and let them leave the table when they've had enough. While eating, turn off the TV, radio, video games, computers, and any other electronic devices. Begin some family traditions. Learn how to talk to each other and how to listen. Discuss and correct table manners, if needed. Discipline for actions outside of eating should be done at another time.
Allow children to decide how much they want to eat. While there are times children may not be hungry, there are other times they want more to eat because they are growing faster. Provide children appropriate, small amounts, and allow them to ask for seconds. Once they are able to place food on their plate, allow them to do so.
Deciding to eat or not to eat is a child's responsibility. Children will determine if they are hungry. If a child does not like the food being offered, begging or threatening places too much emphasis on whether the child eats. If the child does not want to eat, allow him or her to leave the table. Save uneaten food and warm it up for another meal.
Remind your child the next snack or meal is a few hours away, and do not give your child food until the next scheduled meal or snack time.
Originally prepared by Katherine Cason, associate professor of food science. Updated in 2014 by Jill Cox, MS, RD, program development specialist, Penn State Extension Better Kid Care, and Mary Alice Gettings, MS, RD, nutrition consultant, with funding from the Penn State Extension Better Kid Care program.
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