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Tips for Feeding the Entire Family

Posted by: Jessica VanCleave MPH, RD, LDN on Friday, March 13, 2020

Planning meals and snacks for yourself each week is on trend...and hard. Once you add a partner or spouse and kids of different ages to the mix it can quickly become overwhelming. Do I make separate meals for everyone’s different preferences? Do I have to have every meal and snack planned out? How do I make mealtimes more peaceful? How do I stop a food fight? These are all real concerns that even a dietician mom faces each and every day. 

Check out these tips for feeding the whole family:

Set an example

Don’t set expectations for your kids that you aren’t also willing to follow. If we want them to eat all meals and snacks at the dining table, then we should also refrain from snacking in front of the television or sitting on the couch. Let your kids see you eating fruits and vegetables that you enjoy. And above all, don’t talk poorly about your body. Ever. In the minds of your children, you hung the moon! Embrace that! 


Eat as a family as often as you can

Sitting down to eat as a family is becoming increasingly more difficult these days. We have jobs, errands to run, sports and activities, Baby Boot Camp classes.  We often find ourselves eating all our meals alone in the car or on the run. Make it a goal to eat a least one meal together, as a family, each day or a few meals each week. Family meals are beneficial for everyone and a great way to spend some quality time together.

Set meal times

As a mom of a toddler, I know it can be easy to allow our kids and ourselves to “graze” throughout the day instead of having designated meal and snack times. Having set times for eating will give your kids a sense of order and help deter the constant snacking that will often lead to meal time refusal. You don't have to let them go hungry. Providing a nourishing meal or snack every 3-4 hours is ideal for everyone!

Decide WHAT and WHEN but allow your child to decide HOW MUCH

Don’t let your kids make the rules around meals and snacks. You get to decide what foods are offered and when. Allow them to decide how much of what you offered they want to eat. This will help prevent you from having to make separate meals for everyone in the family. If you are making a new dish that they have never had before, try pairing it with a food item that you know they will eat. Sometimes we have to offer a new food multiple times before our family will like it...or even try. 


Meal plan for the week ahead

Having a plan always helps meal times go smoother at my house. This is not something strict or rigid but is helpful during those busy weeknights. Plan for leftovers so that you are not cooking every single night. Ask your family members to get involved with the planning process as well. I like to use a simple meal plan/grocery list template like the image here to keep everything organized.


Set out a snack bowl (this is best for adults and older kids/teens)

I have a snack basket in my pantry and a snack drawer in my refrigerator. This makes those grab-and-go options more accessible. If your little ones like to 'forage' be sure to have a basket of age appropriate snacks on a shelf at their level. 


Get the kids involved in cooking

Warning this one gets messy - but I promise it is worth it. When kids are involved in the process of helping cook or prepare their own meals and snacks, they are more likely to try new things. As they get older, they will develop the skills necessary to shop for, organize and prepare healthy meals for themselves. Help foster happy, confident eaters! Find some great tips here from one of our own Baby Boot Camp Members! 


Don’t stress

Remember there is no such thing as “perfect” eating. There will be nights when you planned to cook but end up going out instead or when you don’t have any vegetables (gasp) with your meal. And that is OK! Give yourself grace. You are doing a great job, Mama. This is hard work we are doing! 

What family friendly meal tips work for YOU? 

Jessica VanCleave MPH, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietician based in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds an Undergraduate degree in dietetics from Lipscomb University & completed her Dietetic Internship at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Jess also holds a Master's in Public Health from Lenoir-Rhyne University. 

A Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Jess's areas of specialty include: intuitive eating, general nutrition, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and body image and weight concerns. 

Jess can be found on Facebook and @jessvancleaverd on Instagram. 

Jess and her husband live in Nashville with their two small children. 

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