Tips for Parents

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The #1 key to raising healthy eaters is the division of responsibility – Parents Provide, Kids Decide!

  • Parents and caregivers are responsible for what, when, and where.
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether to eat.

The division of responsibility applies at all ages, infancy to early childhood to adolescence.

  • In infancy, it is important to feed your baby on demand, letting him/her determine the timing and tempo of feeding. (See section Feeding Guide: 0-5 month old.
  • As baby develops and becomes more regular in his eating patterns, you gradually take on responsibility for when and where to feed. 
  • Most children are ready to join in with family meals and snack routine by the end of the first year. At that point parents focus on what, when, and where.

Parents’ Jobs with Feeding

Whether your child is picky, eats too much or too little, or is too big or too thin, the solution is the same: do your jobs with feeding and let your child do his jobs with eating. Improve the mealtime experience with your children with guidance from the Satter approach.

  • Choose and prepare the food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks at the designated times for your family.   A normal routine brings comfort and consistency to a child’s life. 
  • Offer small portions and allow the child to ask for seconds. 
  • 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.
  • Do not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
  • Do not use food as a reward, bribe, or means to quiet the child.
  • Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.

Trust Your Child

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.

“Good” Eaters

Children are “good” eaters when they:

  • Like eating
  • Are interested in food
  • Feel good about eating
  • Like being at the table
  • Can wait a few minutes to eat when hungry
  • Can try a new food and learn to like it
  • Like a lot of different foods
  • Can eat until full
  • Can stop when full
  • Can eat in other places besides home
  • Can say “no” politely when they don’t want to eat
  • Can be around new or strange foods without getting upset
  • Have good table manners
  • Can “make do” with less-favorite foods

Munch Code

The Munch Code helps you and your family make smart food choices when eating. It uses a traffic light system to label foods as green, yellow, or red to quickly and easily see what food and drinks are a healthy or less healthy choice.

  • Green foods/drinks are the healthiest option and can be enjoyed often. Think Go!
  • Yellow foods/drinks may have added sodium and calories and should be eaten occasionally. Think Slow!
  • Red foods/drinks are the highest in sodium, sugar, fat, and calories, and the least healthy. These foods should be eaten sparingly. The key is not to eliminate all the Red, but keep everything in moderation. Think Stop!

Stop Lights Food Table

Food Group Green Light Yellow Light Red Light
Vegetables Almost all fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables without added fat and sauces All vegetables with added fat and sauces Fried potatoes, like French fries or hash browns
Oven-baked French fries Other deep-fried vegetables
Fruits All fresh, frozen, canned (in 100% juice), and dried fruit (without sugar added) 100% fruit juice Fruits canned in heavy syrup
Fruits canned in light syrup
Dried fruits (with added sugar)
Grains Whole-grain breads, pita bread White refined flour bread, rice, and pasta Croissants, muffins, doughnuts, sweet rolls
Tortillas, pasta, & brown rice French toast, waffles, pancakes Crackers made with trans fat
Hot & cold unsweetened whole grain breakfast cereals Taco shells, cornbread, biscuits Sweetened breakfast cereals
Dairy (Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese) Fat-free or 1% reduced-fat milk 2%, low-fat milk Whole milk (choose for children age 1-2 years)
Fat-free or low-fat yogurt Full-fat cheese slices
Part skim, reduced fat, and fat-free cheese Processed cheese spread Whole-milk yogurt
Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
Protein (Meats, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Beans, and Nuts) Trimmed beef and pork Ham, Canadian bacon Untrimmed beef and pork
Extra lean ground beef Regular ground beef; fried hamburgers
Chicken and turkey without skin Chicken and turkey with skin Ribs, bacon, fried chicken, chicken nuggets
Peanut butter, nuts and seeds Low-fat hot dogs Hot dogs, pepperoni, sausage
Tuna canned in water Tuna canned in oil Fried fish and shellfish
Eggs (cooked without added fat or salt) Lunch meats Whole eggs cooked with fat
Sweets & Snacks Frozen 100% fruit juice bars Pretzels Cookies, cakes, pies, cheese cake
Ice cream, chocolate, candy, chips
Low-fat microwave popcorn Buttered microwave popcorn
Other Calories Vinegar, ketchup, mustard Creamy salad dressing Butter, margarine, lard, gravy
Fat-free creamy salad dressing Low-fat mayonnaise Regular creamy salad dressing, mayonnaise
Fat-free mayonnaise, fat-free sour cream Low-fat sour cream Tartar sauce, sour cream, cheese sauce
Vegetable oil, olive oil and oil-based salad dressing Cream cheese dips
Beverages Water 2% low-fat milk Whole milk, regular soda
Fat-free milk or 1% reduced-fat milk 100% fruit juice Sweetened iced teas and lemonade
Sports drinks Fruit drinks with less than 100% fruit juice

Juice Tips

Juice can be part of a healthy diet…just stick to 100% juice and don’t drink too much!

Fruit and 100% fruit juices are excellent dietary sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folic Acid, Potassium. However, juice does not provide fiber like whole fruits. Fiber is important to make you feel fuller for longer. 

Did you know: Juice can cause weight gain, cramps and gas, diarrhea, tooth decay, and poor appetite for healthier foods.

If given, limit to:

  • ½ cup (4 ounces) per day for 1-3 year old
  • ½ – ¾ cup (4-6 ounces) per day for children 4-6 years old
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) for 7-18 year old
  • No juice is recommended for children less than 1 year.
  • Children do not need juice every day. Whole fruit is preferred to get additional nutrients and fiber not available in juice.

Tips to reduce juice intake

  • Be a good role model by making healthy beverage choices like drinking more water.
  • Dilute it half and half with water.
  • Offer whole fruit instead of 100% fruit juice when possible.

What to look for

If the label reads 100% vitamin C, it is not necessarily 100% fruit juice.

  • Avoid products with these names on the label: Flavored Juice Drink, Juice Cocktail, Citrus Beverage, Cherry Limeade
  • Avoid juice drinks with these added ingredients: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Sucrose

Food Groups

See the Healthy Eating: Food Groups section for more information on food groups and MyPlate.

This post was last updated on October 14th, 2020 at 11:31 AM

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