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This post was updated in May 2019.

Sweets for kids is a burning topic for parents.

Partly because they seem to be ever-present in our world. At school, church, the bank and even at your favorite healthcare provider’s office.

As one mom said to me, “Everywhere we go there is some kind of food available for my child to eat, and often it’s a sweet treat.”

I have no doubt that your child will be tempted by their lure. This shouldn’t baffle you entirely because there are reasons for this. From an early flavor preference to the abundant exposure to sweets, many kids will favor the flavor.

In fact, if they exist in your child’s diet, then you should understand how they gain ground, as well as, how they impact your child’s health.

All this understanding will help you manage sweets when they present themselves in your child’s diet.

9 Things to Know about Sweets and Kids 

I’ve sorted out the nine most important things you need to know, so you can stay balanced in your approach and strategies around treats. If you really want to raise a healthy eater, you’ll need to have a handle on this aspect of your child’s eating.

Children are naturally inclined to sweet flavors

Children are born with taste buds that are used to sugary flavor (amniotic fluid is sweet). If your baby was breastfed, that taste was reinforced through breast milk.

This natural exposure in your womb and your baby’s first feeding explains how sweet preference begins.

Early introduction (before age 2) increases preference

As I mentioned, research has shown that sweet tastes are familiar at birth. Studies have also shown that babies experience relaxation and calmness after tasting something sweet.

Early exposure to sugary foods may not only lead to an increased preference for them, but also a preference for higher levels of sugar in foods.

Eating sweets begets eating more

The more sweets kids eat, the stronger the liking of them, and perhaps, the craving for them.

The pleasure response in the brain is turned on by highly palatable foods, such as those containing sugar, fat, and salt. In other words, these food components trigger feel-good brain chemicals including dopamine.

Once children experience pleasure (associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain’s reward pathway) from eating certain foods, they may feel an urge to eat them again. 

Remember, building healthy eating habits over time means you’ll have to be conscious of the patterns that are being established around eating.

Treats may contain artificial food colors

In America, many of the sweets available to children, especially candy, come with a side dish of artificial food dyes or colors.

The FDA regulates and guarantees the purity and safety of artificial food colorings. As it stands in the United States today, food colors and dyes are considered safe for human consumption.

However, some children experience behavioral changes, such as hyperactivity, when they consume foods with artificial food colors. If your child lives with ADHD, they may experience worsening behavior when eating foods with food dyes..

I think it’s best to try to contain the amounts of artificial food colors and sugar your child eats. You can learn more about ADHD and diet support and my program for parents here.

Some kids experience behavior changes after eating sugary food

A child who demonstrates a change in behavior when he or she eats sweets is not out of the question, although it is rare that sugar alone changes behavior.

What does happen, though, is that your child may get jacked up on sugary foods (remember, dopamine kicks in and your child feels great), then quickly crashes as his blood sugar plummets from the high of concentrated sweets.

This quick decline in blood sugar can elicit behavioral changes such as tantrums, acting out, whining, or other negative behavior. This explains why some kids appear to be more sensitive to sugar than others.

Candy contains empty calories

Candy can certainly ramp up the calorie contribution to your child’s diet, but may offer few nutrients. In other words, there is little nutrition or nutrients per calorie consumed, also known as poor nutrient density.

The younger your child is, the more important it is to make sure that every bite counts for nutrition.

Too much sugar may contribute to weight problems in children

I don’t need to drone on and on about this one, but the overconsumption of sweets is tied to the development of weight challenges in children.

The sugar recommendations are for children to eat no more than 3 to 8 teaspoons of sugar each day, depending on age (younger children eat the lower end of recommendations per the American Heart Association).

However, kids as young as 1 years old are consuming three to four times this amount.

It gets worse as kids get older: 21 teaspoons per day for 4 to 8 year olds and 34 teaspoons per day for teens.

Some foods don’t seem sweet, but they are!

Fruited yogurt, spaghetti sauce, cereal, granola bars. The list of foods that have added sugar may shock you.

While these aren’t always obvious, hidden sources of sugar can add up in your child’s diet. 

Sweets may be sneaked

In my experience, when kids feel too controlled by their parents around sweets, they may sneak them, or overeat them outside of the home.

This certainly has an almost psychological backbone, but when kids feel deprived (their perception, of course) of the foods they like, they may compensate with sneak eating.

This is why I believe it’s a good strategy to have a sweet policy in your home, which ideally outlines a plan for when sweets will be served, and identifies the frequency and amounts that will uphold your child’s health.

How do you manage sweets?

Need More Help?

If you need a better food balance in your home and want “systems” to carry out a healthier food environment in your home, check out my self-study program called The Nourished Child Project.

The post 9 Things You Should Know about Sweets appeared first on Jill Castle.

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This post was updated in May 2019.

What foods can make your child smarter? Truth be told, there are a lot of foods that can improve learning, understanding and memory.  Brain power relies on many factors, including physical activity, sleep and food.

As a pediatric nutritionist, I work with babies, toddlers, children and teens. Each of them has a growing brain, which makes nutrition and food choices an important consideration.

In this article, I’ll cover some of the most nutritious foods for the brain. I’ll tell you why they’re important with quick tips for incorporating them more regularly into your child’s meal plan.

Good Brain Food for Kids

Want to know a little secret?

You’ll read a ton of articles on the best foods for the brain, but many of them miss a big point. 

Especially when it comes to kids.

Rather than focusing on the whole child (food + feeding + developmental stage), what you’ll typically see is a list of the best brain foods. 

I don’t think that’s enough.

Why? Because you can load your child’s plate with the most nutritious brain-boosting foods, but unless he’s willing to eat them, it doesn’t matter.

Am I right?!

How to Feed for Better Brain Power

We all want our kids to have a healthy brain. We all want our kids to be as smart as possible. To learn, pay attention, and remember what they’ve learned. We want to maximize their cognitive capabilities. In other words, we want them to soar intellectually.

Food is quite powerful in this endeavor, but so is feeding.

The brain uses nutrients for a variety of tasks. In babies, nutrients such as omega-3 DHA helps build the framework of the brain. This framework allows the information highway (or, neurotransmission) to establish and transmit messages across the brain throughout childhood.

During the teen years, pruning begins, getting rid of the unused pathways to make way for more efficient memory, understanding and decision-making.

If you’ve raised a teen, you can attest to the forgetfulness that is common in this age group. That’s the brain pruning and re-establishing new roadwork for information transmission.

All this to say that when feeding your child, the timing and structure around meals and snacks helps ensure adequate nutrition is available to the brain (via the bloodstream) when needed.

Kids with ADHD

In children with ADHD, we see how important nutrition is to the developing brain. We have research that tells us learning, focus and attention suffer when kids don’t get adequate nutrition. 

If you have a child with ADHD you’ll want to read this article to help you fine tune his overall diet.

7 Foods to Build Healthy Brains

While there are a number of foods that can be tied to brain health, I’ve outlined what I consider some of the top foods that can strengthen your child’s brain power today, and promote brain health for tomorrow:


These little blue gems are full of flavenoids, plant compounds found in most fruits and vegetables. They help improve your memory, ability to learn and general thinking. Flavenoids also help slow the age-related decreases in mental ability.

Quick Tip:

Blueberries are an incredibly convenient and versatile food. Include blueberries on cereal, in salads, yogurt parfaits, in a smoothie, or just grab a handful. Any form of blueberries will do: fresh, frozen, dried, or freeze-dried.


Eating olives regularly may lead to less brain deterioration over time. That’s because mono-unsaturated fats (or MUFAs) promote the transportation of more oxygen to the brain.

Saturated fats (from meats, dairy, fried foods), by comparison, may stiffen cell membranes.

The mono-unsaturated fat found in olives and other foods like salmon gets incorporated into all of our body cells. MUFAs are considered “good” fats and it’s good practice to include them in your child’s regular diet.

Quick Tip:

Use olives as snack food, as a side dish in lunch boxes, or as a pre-dinner appetizer. And don’t forget its side product, olive oil. Also a great addition to your child’s diet.


Nuts are also a source of mono-unsaturated fat. They have another important nutrient, vitamin E, which reduces the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s by squelching brain cell-damaging elements called free radicals.

Quick Tip:  

A little bit goes a long way. Make sure to pay attention to the portion size when eating nuts.

You can add nuts to cereal or as a yogurt topper, snack on them alone, or sprinkle on top of salad or cooked veggies. If you have a nut-allergic child, seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds offer similar benefits. Learn how to prevent peanut allergy here.


Eating fish regularly seems to have an effect on brain size (mass), and may slow down the aging process of the brain.

The oils (omega-3 fats) present in fatty fish help enhance problem solving, concentration, and memory.

Quick Tip:

Get the fish habit started early. While the goal is to offer 2 servings of fatty fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel, trout) per week, the truth is even getting one serving a week is progress in the right direction.

Limit mercury-containing fish like swordfish.


Dark chocolate has been found to increase blood flow to the brain, and improve thinking and mood, mostly due to the presence of cocoa flavenols (an antioxidant) and caffeine.

Quick Tip:

Think about sweets—if you’re offering them, choose sweets that add to health, not take away from it.


Naturally rich in healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), avocado improves blood flow to the brain, a natural way to enhance brain ability.

Quick Tip:

Mash avocado on sandwiches in lieu of mayonnaise. Chop it into cubes as a finger food, or serve a halved avocado with a spoon and squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle of salt (my personal favorite).


Children have a developing memory center, which is forming during the first 6 years of life. Choline is an important nutrient in this process.

One yolk has about 200 milligrams of choline, which meets or nearly meets the needs of children up to 8 years.

Eggs also contain iron, folate, vitamin A and D (if enhanced), which are important for normal growth and development.

Quick Tip:

Children can have an egg a day. Keep the variety coming with scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, loaded with veggies in frittatas, quiches and omelets, and of course, included in baked goods.

Check with your healthcare provider if your child is dealing with a high cholesterol level.

How will you incorporate these top brain foods into your child’s diet?

The post Best Brain Foods: Boost Your Child’s Brain Power appeared first on Jill Castle.

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This post was updated in April, 2019.

When I was growing up, my mother served “family-style” meals. We would set the table with plates, glasses and silverware, and my mother would place our meal components in the center of the table.

My father would start with the entrée, serve himself, and pass the platter to the next person on his right. This went on until all items had been passed around to each person and everyone had food.

You can imagine how efficient we were with getting the food around the table, especially when we were hungry! This was effective for my family then, and I use it with my own kids now.

In this article, you’ll learn about family-style meals, their benefits, and the basic blueprint for setting them up in your home.

Why I Like Family-Style Meals:

I like family-style meals for several reasons:

  • They provide young children with opportunities to hone their motor skills, such as balance, passing platters, holding bowls and scooping food, for example.
  • Kids are able to learn and practice their table manners, such as please, thank you, and other courtesies, as well as patience.
  • It creates an opportunity for kids to choose which foods to eat and the amount which works for their body. 
  • Trust is promoted, such as acknowledging your child’s capability with serving himself and allowing your child to choose foods and amounts that are right for him/her.
Family-Style Meals & the Division of Responsibility

Family-style meals honor Satter’s Division of Responsibility with Feeding. They allow your child to choose whether and how much she will eat at mealtime, and appreciates the individual preferences and eating style of your child.

Family-style meals can enhance exposure to new foods in a natural and relaxed way. And, when you get your feeding style in the right place, they compliment your whole strategy for raising a healthy child.

When food items are passed around the table (we pass to the right at our house too), all options get handed around, and each child holds, looks at, and smells all the individual foods at the table.

Even if your picky eater snubs the broccoli, she still needs to be polite and pass it around, experiencing broccoli in the meantime.

Who Can Participate in Family-Style Meals (& When)?

Young toddlers can begin to practice the family-style meal at the table with you. It’s appropriate to allow your toddler more independence and a voice in what and how much she eats.

For children under the age of 5 years, parents can hold the platters and bowls for their child and walk around behind them, asking if they would like some of such and such, and how much.

By age 5, many kids can be independent with family-style meals, holding and passing platters and bowls and serving themselves. Of course, if your child needs help, support him.

If You’re Used to Pre-Plating Food 

Many parents are “food platers.”  In other words, they pre-plate food for their children. They serve up the meal on a plate, selecting the food items and the amounts for their child to eat.

Often, this practice is a habit, and without much thought for the long term effects.

While some kids are OK with someone else in charge of their meal selections, other kids may not be.

Plating may feel controlling or restrictive, leading kids to react in ways that are counter-productive to their health (like overeating). “Plating” may also overshoot kid portion-sizes.

I used to be a mom who plated her kids’ food. You might like to read about my experience!

The Amazing Shift at the Table 

I encourage parents to try family-style meals and see how their kids react. Many families tell me that their kids eat better and mealtime is more relaxed—even enjoyable!

That may be due to the shift in control from the parent to the child, diffusing the drama at the meal table.

What if My Kid Eats Too Much?

Some parents worry their child will be out of control with their eating, taking large amounts of food.

My experience has been that kids do love the freedom of serving themselves. Some kids can get carried away initially, but this passes as they get used to this style. Eventually, they relax about getting enough to eat and tune into their own hunger.

Remember, this is a learning process! Kids don’t know how much to eat, but can learn a lot about their appetite and regulating it through family meals.

A Word about Balanced Meals

The content of the meal is where you can optimize nutrition! Offer as many food groups as possible on the table and make the health quality of the meal a priority.

For example, if you’re serving fried chicken, make sure to balance that with a vegetable, a whole grain, fruit and low-fat milk or milk substitute. All foods fit, but use strategy in your meal planning.

The Benefits of Family-Style Meals

Family-style meals have a great benefit for children. Studies suggest children may eat better and healthier, learn positive social skills, and negotiate nutrition in meaningful ways with this approach.

Try it—your family may like it! I think it’s part of the pathway to really raising a healthy eater.

Are family-style meals lready part of your mealtime process? Share your experiences below.

Want to improve your family meals? Take the Happy {Family} Meals Challenge!

YES! I want to join The Happy {Family} Meal Challenge!

The post Family-Style Meals: Benefits & Basics appeared first on Jill Castle.

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This post was updated in May 2019.

Since when did feeding kids get so hard?

Time and time again I hear from parents who are overwhelmed, discouraged, and tempted to throw in the towel.

They sit in disbelief.

Baffled by how challenging it is to feed and raise a healthy eater.

In this article, you’ll learn what it takes to get kids to eat right, including a positive attitude, offering healthy food, using positive food parenting skills, and cultivating a robust sense of self. 

As a pediatric nutritionist, I know the attention you give to food selection and feeding your child will lay the foundation of your child’s future of health and wellness.

Why It’s Hard to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

I could go on and on about the variety of reasons it’s hard to feed kids today. Here’s a few of them:

Both kids and parents have busy schedules leading to a lack of time for shopping, preparing and eating food

Picky eaters and their picky palates make feeding them time-consuming and challenging 

Parents may lack cooking skills or the desire to cook

Advertising and marketing efforts around food tend to promote unhealthy, convenient foods which are palatable and attractive to kids

Dual working parents add pressure to mealtime schedules

I bet you could rattle off more!

The truth is, parenting and feeding kids is no walk in the park. 

We all want to raise a healthy eater.

That’s the good news.

The kick in the pants is this: There are certain principles and actions you must follow to make it more likely you’ll raise a healthy eater.

Having a blueprint is a good thing, so let’s dive in to what it takes to parent and feed a healthy eater. 

7 Keys to Raising a Healthy Eater: 1. Have a Good Attitude: It’s Your Job!

If you approach your office job with dread, it will be dreadful. The same goes with all the elements of feeding your child.

Sure, shopping, cooking and cleaning aren’t glamorous or rewarding, but they are part of the job skill set. 

If you can shift your mindset it can make your daily routine more fulfilling.

Remember, your child’s eating habits and food preferences come from the home front, in large part.  

I hope you see yourself as a teacher, guide and exposer:

Teaching your child about food, nutrition and healthy habits.

Guiding your child to adopt healthy eating habits, manners and self-love.

Exposing your child to new cuisine, cooking skills and more.

You’ve got quite an important job!

So, take it to heart.

2. Offer Healthy Food as the Norm

I spoke with a mom the other day who was frustrated that her daughter was eating a lot of carbs, most of which were coming from processed, packaged foods like cookies and crackers.

I asked her to stop buying all those items and make a conscious effort to downsize them in the family diet.

Low and behold, her daughter started to eat more fruits, veggies and dairy products. Why? Because the other stuff wasn’t in abundance in the pantry any longer.

If you want your child to eat right, you’ve got to make healthy food items available in your kitchen.

Wholesome, nutritious food has to be the default.


Want to raise a healthy eater? Wholesome, nutritious food has to be the default. #thenourishedchild #eatlikeachampion #pediatricnutrition
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Children require over 40 nutrients each day to grow and develop well.

Offer a wide variety of whole, natural foods including dairy products, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

And get the food balance in a good place, making sure to keep a cap on sweets and treats.

3. Focus on Family Meals

I know you’re busy. And time is tight. But if there’s one thing that will really move the needle on raising a healthy eater who makes healthy choices, it’s family meals.

Sit down and eat together as often as you can. 

Research tells us that eating three to five family meals per week may improve grades, reduce risk-taking behaviors, and prevent weight problems and eating disorders.

Try using a family-style meal service.

Put a variety of prepared food into serving dishes, pass them around the table and let everyone choose which foods they will eat and how much. 

[If you want a tutorial on this approach, listen to this podcast episode.]

Be sure to include one or two food items that you know your child likes and is comfortable eating.  

Family-style meals encourage learning about appetite and they promote autonomy.

This is the fastest path to supporting your child in learning about his body, a balanced diet, and eating quantities of food that are right for him.

It works a lot better than telling your child what and how much to eat!

4. Flex Your Food Parenting Muscles

Your parental feeding style and how you and your partner parent around food are powerful predictors of how well your child will eat.

If you use negative feeding practices like pressure to take more bites or try new food, or implement food rewards to get your child to eat, you’ll be heading down a dangerous road. 

One that can result in poor food choices, overeating, under-eating, and even dysfunctional eating.

Instead, be diplomatic in your feeding approach.

In other words, use a love with limits strategy. Set up an eating schedule, a regular eating location, and kitchen and food rules to help your child manage his eating.

You will have a happy eater in the long run.

5. Introduce New Foods

One of the effective ways to help your child learn to like and eat a variety of foods is by consistently offering and exposing her to new items. 

Even if she rejects them.

This is called repeated exposure.

For many kids, it will take 8 to 15 to perhaps even 50 repeated exposures (without pressure to eat), before they will adopt a new food into their diet.

Yet, many parents give up after 3 or 4 exposures.

Don’t be that parent.

If you have a picky eater on your hands, there is a way to introduce new foods that will result in better outcomes.

[If your picky eater is underweight, read this.]

On the flip side, there’s a path to more picky eating, which unfortunately, many families find themselves on.

Part of raising healthy eaters is to expose your child to new food, new cuisines, and new flavors. But it’s not just about getting new food on the table.

The tone and manner with which you feed matters just as much.

[Read: Help! My Toddler Won’t Eat.]

What about Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables?

This is the questions most parents focus on. Yes, it’s important to help kids learn to like and eat vegetables.

But veggies are an acquired taste. Naturally, they are bitter and this fact repels many children.

Be patient. Continue to bring them to the table in many different forms.

For example, cream of broccoli soup, roasted broccoli, or blanched broccoli with dip. You get the idea.

Offering fruit can cover some of the nutrient gaps created by not eating vegetables, so make sure you serve it up often.

And, last, there’s always a multivitamin for the child who really eats very few vegetables.

6. Capture Teachable Moments about Nutrition

You probably want to know how to teach your child about nutrition. This is a good thing to think about.

Kids do best when they participate in active learning rather than passive learning.

Hands on experiences like cooking, baking and cleaning invite a natural conversation about food and nutrition.

Spontaneous questions about nutrition are also moments in time when kids are receptive to learning.

These teachable moments are important to capture because they indicate a curiosity. This means your child is ready to learn, on his timetable.

All that good information you have will sink in!

The opposite — lecturing about healthy eating, why your child should eat better, threats of his future poor health — simply don’t work.

You’ll be spinning your words and getting frustrated in the meantime. 

Let your child come to you. Create teachable moments in the kitchen. Embrace your child’s curiosity and explore topics in nutrition together.

7. Be a Healthy Role Model

You are the greatest influence on your child’s eating habits, particularly in the first decade of his life. 

To raise a healthy eater, you have to be a healthy eater yourself.

Not a big surprise to hear, I’m sure.

You also need to emulate good sleep habits, physical activity routines, and more often than not, positive ways to manage your stress levels.

Your child watches how you live, in order to learn how she should live. 

Powerful stuff.

Your child watches how you live, in order to learn how she should live. #thenourishedchild #positiverolemodel #raiseahealthyeater
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Negative comments about your child’s food selections, how much or how little she eats, and how she looks may hurt her self esteem and body image.

And if you’re making these comments about yourself, you need to stop.

Additionally, take the focus off of food, eating, and body size at mealtimes. Instead, enjoy conversations about the school day or future activities on the family schedule.

It’s so important to be a terrific role model for your child!

Walk the talk. It takes time. Remember, your child is absorbing (through osmosis it seems!) your habits, lifestyle and attitudes.  

You Can Be a Great Feeder

Following these principles will help you really raise a child who is a confident, healthy and happy eater.

I know it may seem like a lot, but it’s worth it. Chip away at each of these principles — they are effective. 

One of the reasons parents are overwhelmed with feeding their kids is that it isn’t simply about getting your child to eat healthy food. Or, getting healthy food on the table. Or teaching your child which foods he should eat. 

It’s so much more.

That’s where the overwhelm comes into play. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Do You Need More Help?

If you want or need more help, I have several resources for you:

The Nourished Child Project: a self-education program designed for parents of children aged four to fourteen. The program helps you set up a food system, feeding strategy and healthy lifestyle habits.

The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids: Did you just have a baby? Getting ready to start solids? Do it the right way, with an eye on food and feeding. This quick read will help you get started on the healthy path.

Try New Food: How to Help Picky Eaters Taste, Eat & Like New Foods: Packed with the mindset, tools and strategies to help all picky eaters start the journey to add new foods to their repertoire. This workbook helps parents reflect, journal and strategize their approach to introducing new foods to the picky eater.

The post How to Really Raise a Healthy Eater appeared first on Jill Castle.

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This post was updated in April 2019. 

Given all the publicity around sugar-laden drinks, high fructose corn syrup and unhealthy weight in kids, offering chocolate milk to your child can be a confusing prospect. 

As a pediatric dietitian, one of the most FAQ (frequently asked questions) I receive is this: Is chocolate milk good for you?

In this post, I will attempt to look at the facts and weigh the pros and cons of chocolate milk in your child’s diet.

Ultimately, I hope you will have enough information to feel good about your stance, whatever it may be.

Tell Me, Is Chocolate Milk Good or Bad?

Chocolate milk is considered a flavored milk. The addition of chocolate adds sugar, calories, and a boost of sweet flavor. 

Many children enjoy it at lunch. School lunch programs across the country have been scrutinized for making flavored milk part of the lunch fare for children. Yet, some children would never drink milk unless it was flavored.

I believe the influence on your child’s diet boils down to how often and how much your child is drinking chocolate milk.

The extra sugar has been researched and found to have an ideal blend of carbohydrate and protein. Carbs and protein are important for an athlete’s healing and recovery after a workout.

To help you understand this topic better, I’ll break down a few key concepts and facts about chocolate milk for kids. 

The Benefits of Chocolate Milk

There are some up sides to chocolate milk.

The Nutrient Composition

Chocolate milk has an abundance of nutrients that children need for healthy growth and development, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.

Unfortunately, many parents may hear “chocolate” and think sugar.

[And some adults get nervous about sugar being too addictive and causing cravings for more sweets.]

People get confused by the carb content. They think the carbs are purely from table sugar. But, there’s more to the story.

I tried to clarify that point in this article about common milk myths.

In addition to added sugar, chocolate milk contains the naturally-occurring sugar called lactose.

When you combine sucrose from added chocolate and naturally-occuring lactose from milk, it can certainly look like a hefty dose of sugar!

But that number represents both sucrose and lactose.

Bone Nutrients in All Milk

Don’t forget the 9 important nutrients that are present in this healthy drink for kids. There are good nutrients to be had, especially calcium and vitamin D, which are not always easy for kids to get enough of when they skip out on milk.

Calcium and vitamin D are key nutrients to building strong bones, which exclusively happens during childhood.

In fact, calcium and vitamin D are consumed inadequately across all age groups (except children under age 2) and among all demographics.

My book, The Calcium Handbook: Over 100 Ways to Grow Healthy Bones for Your Child, can help further your understanding of calcium-containing food options to include for your child so that you can help your child build strong bones.

It Tastes Good

Is chocolate milk good on the taste buds? Many children think so.

Children like to eat food that tastes good, and that holds true in the case of drinking milk.  

Many studies published have shown that milk consumption is higher in schools when flavored milk is offered.

A Recovery Drink after Sports Training

As I mentioned, chocolate milk has been studied as a workout recovery drink, and from all indications, it has a positive impact on muscle recovery and growth, and helps replenish glycogen stores in muscle tissue.  

From soccer players to cyclists, it appears that, when consumed after prolonged exercise, the combination of carbohydrate and protein has positive effects on the body’s ability to recover and rebuild muscle.

Parents of athletes take note:  8-10 oz appears to do the trick.

That’s why I stock it in my home routinely.

If you’ve got an athlete, you might be interested in my popular sports nutrition book for young athletes, called, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete, where I cover the research and role of flavored milk.

I also have a self-paced education program to teach young athletes how to fuel their bodies for sport, also called Eat Like a Champion. You can learn more about it here.

Can Chocolate Milk Be Bad for Kids?

And there are some downsides…


It is true with anything we eat–too much is too much. Same for flavored milk, also.  

Too much of a good thing can be bad for your child. Think about too much fruit and the resulting trips to the bathroom. (I’ve experienced this first hand with my kids!)

Chocolate milk can be part of a healthy and satisfying diet as long as you keep the quantities consumed in check. 

Aim for three servings of dairy per day, on average, and be mindful of the portion size and how often you offer it. Dairy can be yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, milk or other dairy product.

It’s not a good idea to offer three servings of chocolate milk, so make sure you rotate foods in this category.

Last, be conscious of the recommendations for sugar (less than 10% of total caloric intake).

Allergy to Milk

Food allergy may warrant avoidance of milk and all foods made with milk. Consumption of milk and foods made with milk can cause swelling, hives and anaphylaxis.

If your child is allergic to milk, avoid chocolate milk and other flavored milks. 

Skin Problems

Does dairy cause acne? I’ve heard many people state their skin cleared up after removing dairy from their diet. Scientifically, the research does not show a cause and effect relationship between dairy and acne, however, there are a few studies that suggest consumption of milk and ice cream are associated with acne.

No association was found with cheese and yogurt.

It’s Your Decision! Flavored Milk in School

Many schools have eliminated chocolate milk. Is this the right thing to do? I’m not sure.

I can see limiting the number of days it is served. I can see assuring that it’s a low fat version. 

A complete ban, though?  

When it is pulled out of schools, overall milk consumption drops by an average of 35%.

Studies suggest this occurs because fewer students choose milk (clearly their preference was chocolate or flavored milk over white milk), and more milk was wasted.

Unfortunately over time, an improved acceptance of white milk did not occur, making overall consumption of milk decrease.

Shortfall Nutrients

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that calcium and vitamin D continue to be shortfall nutrients (nutrients with inadequate intake) for children.  

A review of calcium intake and status in children indicate that up to 50% of children as young as 2 years are not getting enough calcium.  

While the optimist (and dietitian) in me knows that children can get calcium from other sources, the realist in me thinks differently. 

I believe that these shortfall nutrients may create some real health problems for children as they age, particularly in their bone health.

Chocolate milk may help close that gap and helps kids build strong bones.

What I Do with My Kids

When I plan food and meals, I lead with nutrients in mind. I look for the foods that will fulfill the nutritional requirements of my kids.

I know that without milk and dairy products, my kiddos are unlikely to get what they need, especially for calcium and vitamin D.

I aim for 3 servings of milk or dairy per day.  I used to not purchase it for my home when my children were younger.

Then, if they chose to have it at school, that was fine with me, as that was the only place they were getting it.  

Now I buy it for my young athletes.

I am careful not to vilify or eliminate flavored milk. I find ways we can work it in reasonably. I treat it just as I would the birthday cakes, the Thanksgiving pie, and the “fun food” (high fat, high sugar treats and junky food) my children eat.  

As I see it, making flavored milk the bad guy gets us stuck in the muck, and it becomes difficult to classify and navigate the other foods in our less than perfect diets.

But of course, I like nearly all foods, and want my kids to be open-minded and like them also.

To me, it’s less about chocolate milk, and more about the balance, variety, and amounts of all the foods we serve our children.  

Let us be better at teaching our children about choice, variety, balance, and amounts, rather than spending time and energy instilling fear and confusion about food.  

Time well spent, in my humble, dietitian’s opinion.

What’s your stance? 

Sound off in the comment section below!

The post Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids? appeared first on Jill Castle.

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This post was updated in April 2019

A Healthy Eating Schedule for Kids

We hear about feeding schedules for babies all the time. The timing of meals and snacks — or an eating schedule — works really well for kids, too.

So many families are busy these days and their food routine is chaotic. No set times for meals or snacks. No plan for what those meals and snacks will be.

All this chaos causes stress.

Having a food routine separates eating from other activities. These spaces — or timely intervals — throughout the day can help your child develop and hone his appetite regulation skills.

In this article, I’ll explain the eating schedule that supports your child’s nutritional needs while helping him tune into and regulate his appetite.

What is Appetite Regulation?

Your child’s appetite is his or her desire to eat food, whether that be due to hunger, or other reasons. Kids can be truly hungry, which is what I call physical hunger.

Or, they can be ‘head hungry.’

For example, with ‘head hunger,’ kids may think they’re hungry because someone else is eating, triggering a desire to eat as well.

Or, a child may have access to a food they love but haven’t eaten in a long time. This can spike their desire to eat (appetite) and make them think they are hungry.

Appetite regulation is the ability to eat when hungry and stop when full. It’s a true sense of physical hunger.

It’s also the acknowledgement that external triggers may be the reason for perceived hunger.

The ability to regulate your appetite is the foundation of lifelong healthy eating and living. 

The ability to regulate your appetite is the foundation of lifelong healthy eating and living. #healthykids #thenourishedchild #childhoodnutrition
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The opposite can be true, too. Erratic eating leads to a lack of appetite and inadequate eating over time. Sometimes this happens to the toddler or the picky eater.

Healthy Meals Plans and an Eating Schedule Work Together

Developing a schedule for meals and snacks helps your child get the variety of nutrients she needs in her diet on a daily basis (40 different ones!).

One of the things I help families with as a pediatric nutritionist is meal planning. Understanding the different food groups and how to plan them into daily meals helps your child get closer to the nutrients he needs.

But you also need to know how to balance sweets and treats to keep the focus on nutrition and not let them take over.

When kids get the nutrients they need, they grow well and are able to maintain their health. This can translate to fewer illnesses.

When we pair balanced meals with an eating schedule, the magic starts to happen.

Meals and snacks that are nutritious, filling, and spaced out in a way that makes sense for your child allows appetite regulation to be much easier, and more natural.

The truth? An eating schedule may help your child recognize and maintain normal appetite cues and reduce ‘head hunger.’

Translated: Your child will be hungry at meals and less likely to complain of hunger between them. 

Meal Schedules Change as Kids Grow

The timing of meals and snacks change as kids grow. This is something that seems obvious but parents aren’t always changing the schedule when they need to.

For example, I meet many kids who are eating three and four snacks each day.  This is too many!

Only very young children need frequent meals and snacks.

As kids grow and their tummies get bigger, they can eat more. Their stomachs can hold more food. Naturally, this will extend the timeframe between meals and snacks.

Let’s look at a recommended eating schedule based on a child’s age:  

Young children

Little ones (toddlers and young preschoolers) require three meals and up to three snacks per day to meet their nutritional needs for growth and development. Tiny tummies make it important to offer frequent meals.

For more on toddlerhood growth and development, read:

What to Expect with Toddlerhood Growth

School-age children

Kids in school need about 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day. Younger school-age kids (grade K through 2) may need to gradually transition down to two snacks per day. This will be dependent on where they are in their development and growth stage. 

Older school-age kids will do well with one snack per day.

The good news is, many schools allow time for a morning snack. Hopefully, this is a nutritious snack. If you’re packing a school snack from home, I have some guidelines and a handy e-guide on how to do this!

Typically, a child’s second snack will occur after school.


Teenagers are like adults. They do well with three meals and one snack each day, unless they are an athlete requiring more nutrition for athletic performance, or are in a growth spurt and need additional calories and nutrients.

What is a Balanced Diet? 

A balanced diet represents most of the USDA MyPlate food groups, including protein foods, dairy foods (or non-dairy substitutes), fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

As mentioned, when planning meals, aim to offer most food groups at a meal and try to incorporate a variety of foods within each food group.

For example, within the fruit group, offer a range of options such as strawberries, apple and peaches. If you’re planning for grains, vary it up with cereal, oats or cream of wheat.

Try to avoid offering the same types of food over and over.

Mix it up so that your child gets exposed to a number of different nutrients throughout the day. 

A general rule of thumb is to offer four to five food groups at meals, and at least two to three food groups at snack time.

Offer your child at least 4-5 food groups at meals, and at least 2-3 food groups at snack time. #balancedmeals #childhoodnutrition #thenourishedchild
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What is the Best Schedule for Meals?

It is good for children to have a structure to their day, and with meals and snacks, this certainly holds true.

For toddlers and young preschoolers, an eating schedule that spaces meals and snacks to every two and half to three hours works well for most.

For school-age kids, eating intervals of three to four hours seems to be most effective in preventing too much hunger and overeating in children. 

Teens do well with an eating schedule that spaces meals and snacks at every four to five hours.

What doesn’t work well for any child is a sense of unpredictability around when they will eat.

Try to set a daily eating schedule that stays consistent for meals and snacks in your home. 

What doesn't work well for any child is a sense of unpredictability around when they will eat. #healthyeating #fearlessfeeding #childhoodnutrition
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A Sample Meal Plan for Kids  

Based on the intervals I outlined above, let’s look at a sample meal plan for a school-age child.

Start with breakfast in the morning, and proceed from there. Lunch at mid-day, an after-school snack, and dinner at a predictable time. Here’s what it looks like “on paper:” 

7 am breakfast

10 am snack

1 pm lunch

4 pm snack

7 pm dinner 

Predictability is a Good Thing

Ideally, you want to keep your meals and snacks flowing during the day, especially during the younger years. This routine and rhythm will build predictability and security around food and eating, and help keep undesirable behaviors, such as overeating, at bay.

The emotional response from a child who is unsure about when meals or snacks will be happening can build insecurity around food and eating. 

Insecurity can be seen in the following ways: rapid eating, preoccupation with food, frequent questioning about when and what is being served for meals, and “sneak eating”.

Promote rhythm in your child’s eating experiences by staying on time, balanced, and being predictable. And, of course, make sure you’re using a feeding style that promotes structure, boundaries and autonomy.

With feeding, this takes a little bit of planning and  practice.  

The results? A child who learns to regulate his appetite and eating, lives in a healthy body, and who is less fixated on food.

Want to see if you’re on track with raising a nourished, healthy child? Snag my checklist below!

Send Me How to Nourish a Healthy Child Today! 

Need help with scheduling and planning snacks? Check out my Healthy Snack Planner for Kids!

The post Why Your Child Should Follow an Eating Schedule appeared first on Jill Castle.

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Last updated: April, 2019.

Healthy Meal Plans for Kids

Children who eat a balanced diet tend to eat a healthy diet. But food alone does not a healthy diet make. Your feeding style also plays an important role.

As a childhood nutrition expert, this is where I see many parents getting tripped up. You focus on one or two healthy foods instead of an overall balanced diet.

Or, you worry more about what to take away from your child’s diet, rather than what to include in it. Is this you?

If so, this article will help you take a more effective approach in planning balanced meals and feeding your child. In this article, I’ll cover what a balanced meal is, why it matters, specific food groups to include as part of a balanced diet, as well as portion sizes for kids and timing of meals and snacks.

What is a Balanced Meal Plan?

You may be striving for a balanced, healthy meal plan, but if you don’t have the basics in mind, you may question yourself. Let’s get the concept of healthy meal plans straight.

A healthy meal plan for a child includes:

nutritious, wholesome food

a balance of all food groups

strategic timing of meals and snacks

helpful ways to incorporate sweets and treats

Together, a balanced diet and optimal meal timing will create a healthy meal plan for your child. 

As a result, she will be better able to grow and regulate her eating.

Why Does a Balanced Diet Matter?

There are several reasons why a healthy eating plan is important for growing children.

First, offering a balanced diet of different foods ensures your child will receive the vast majority of his nutritional requirements for growth.

Secondly, the timing of meals and snacks help cover your child’s hunger and appetite so that she’s better able to regulate her eating.

In the end, a healthy meal plan helps your child meet nutrient requirements while eating in a more intuitive and mindful manner.

That means eating for hunger rather than boredom, emotions, or other outside triggers.

[Listen: How to Raise a Mindful Eater ]

Food Groups in a Balanced Nutrition Plan

Food groups are the categories of food that target important, specific nutrients. There are five main food groups, which I will describe below.

Fats are an additional food group, but many foods already have fat included, so I generally don’t ask you to work this in, unless I feel there isn’t enough in your child’s usual eating patterns. 

Fun Foods are a group I add to the mix so that you can explore the right balance of nutritious foods and indulgent foods.

5 Food Groups for Kids & their Nutrients:

The fruit group and vegetable group (for brevity, placed together) target potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber, among other nutrients.

The protein group covers iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and more.

The dairy group covers calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.

The grains group offer other important nutrients such as B vitamins and fiber.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Plan a Balanced Meal with Protein First

The more food groups you include in a meal, the better chance your child gets an optimal variety of nutrients. 

The more food groups you include in a meal, the better chance your child gets an optimal variety of nutrients.
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Step One:

I teach my families to set up healthy meal plans using the five basic food groups, starting with protein first.

Protein is important for growth in children and for appetite control, so I like to see it take a starring role on the meal plan.

The protein food can be beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, soy, or it can be something from the dairy group (also a good source of protein) like milk or yogurt.

Step Two:

Second, pick fruit and vegetables. Yes, I like to see fruit on the table at all major meals.

Fruit takes the pressure off of eating veggies if you have a hesitant eater.

It’s also a great source of nutrients, and if your child has a sweet tooth, is a good stand in for dessert.

Step Three:

Lastly, fill in the meal plan with (whole) grains and dairy (if it hasn’t been added yet).

Include all the food groups for a balanced nutrition plan and a healthy diet for your child.

[Need Recipe Inspiration? I’ve got my favorite cookbooks in my Nutrition Store!]

What about Portion Sizes in a Balanced Diet?

I believe that the table is where kids learn about portion sizes. I also believe that children should be allowed to eat to satisfy their appetite.

These two goals: learning about portions and eating to satisfaction (instead of fullness) can clash at the family table.

You never want portion sizes to become a restrictive way to feed your child

You never want portion sizes to become a restrictive way to feed your child.
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That’s why I like to use the concept of starter portions.

What is a Starter Portion of Food for Kids?

Starter portions are age-appropriate portion sizes for your child.

They help your child understand a good place to start with how much food to eat, while also understanding that more food, if hungry, is okay to have.

Let me repeat: Your child should be allowed to eat an array of food groups at mealtime, in amounts that satisfy her appetite.

Starter portions are simply a place to begin with food amounts.

Starter portions teach a point of reference for kids. Think of them as a visual learning tool.

Without them, kids may not understand what a normal portion size looks like, or may over-serve (or be over-served) food portions.

As kids grow, the starter portions change to accommodate their bigger bodies and growth requirements.

See my free chart to help you better understand starter portions.

I like to see kids experimenting with measuring cups and spoons and other simple tools to help them learn.

Who says your child can’t use a half-cup measure to serve up rice at the table?

What is the Best Timing for Meals?

The timing of meals is key, too. In fact, this can work for you, or against you.

Get the timing right, and your child will be satisfied after eating and less likely to ask for more food afterward.

If you get the timing wrong, your child may be hungry, asking for snacks, and potentially grazing with or without your permission.

I base my meal timing recommendations on basic physiology.

A child’s tummy is smaller. Because of the smaller size, children eat smaller volumes of food more frequently.

Meal Timing for Toddlers

For instance, a toddler has a very little tummy, so I recommend setting up meal timing every 2 to 3 hours.

Translated: a meal or snack should be scheduled every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day. This will help to meet nutritional needs while covering hunger and appetite.

Meal Timing for School-Age Kids & Teens

The school-age child should have a meal plan that reflects a 3 to 4 hour window between meals and snacks.

Teens do well with meal timing scheduled every 3 to 5 hours, depending on growth spurt, activities and overall daily life events.

I think meal timing is critical to helping your child regulate his eating. In other words, helping him eat the right amount of foods to satisfy his appetite.

I see kids go too long without eating and experience the sensation of being overly hungry. You know where that can lead.

Or, I see the child who is eating frequently throughout the day and getting too much food, and never really experiencing hunger and appetite.

Meal timing (and the supportive kitchen boundaries you need to back you up) can help tame these eating extremes.

Healthy Meal Plans: Putting It All Together

A balanced meal plan for your child will include a variety of food groups, starter portions, and optimal meal timing based on your child’s age.

This three prong approach will help you create a healthy nutrition plan for your child, while teaching him how to balance food and encourage self-regulation with eating.

How do you create balanced meals for your family?

You May Also Like:

How to Handle Kids’ Eating at Parties 

Healthy Living Series: How to Form Healthy Eating Habits

Why Your Child Should Follow an Eating Schedule

Need More Help with Nutrition?

If you’ve got a sneaky suspicion you’re missing food groups or nutrients in your child’s diet, my e-book, Nutrients for Kids, Advanced Guide, can help you sort this out.

In this guide, you’ll get my Top 7 Nutrients you need to watch for, along with nutrient sources of foods, substitutions if you need them, and guidelines on when to bring a multivitamin on board.

Click here to learn more!

Additionally, my program The Nourished Child Project takes you through the basics of food, feeding and setting up healthy habits for your child.

The post Healthy Meal Plans for Kids appeared first on Jill Castle.

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This post was updated in April 2019.

What’s Your Feeding Style?

You have a hair style, a fashion style you emulate, a style of walking and talking, and more.

You also have a parental feeding style.

Parental feeding styles summarize the general way, or attitude, you have about feeding your child. They also inform the daily actions you take around the meal table. 

As a pediatric nutritionist, I spend quite a bit of time discussing this topic with my clients, as well as talking about it on my podcast and this blog. 

In this article, I will outline the four common parental feeding styles and highlight how they show up in the day-to-day feeding of your child.

The Hardest Job of Parenthood

Feeding your child is arguably one of the most time-consuming and grueling jobs of parenthood.  It’s often thankless, and sometimes plagued with parental insecurity and low confidence. Many parents struggle and muddle through the process of feeding their children. 

Not to mention the daily effort of feeding a child can be overwhelming. Think about all the planning, procuring, preparing, serving, and cleaning up that goes along with feeding a family.

It’s a lot!

Here is a sobering statistic: throughout an 18 year childhood, you will probably feed your child over 28,000 times (assuming you provide the recommended age-appropriate meals and snacks). 

What’s a Parental Feeding Style?

Researchers in the area of feeding kids suggest that feeding styles, or the attitude you use in the process of feeding your child, will closely mirror your parenting style.

When you see other parents parenting, you probably recognize that everyone has their own style. You may also be attracted to those parents who parent like you.

Did you know that each parent has a style of their own when it comes to feeding their kid? 

While one style is generally used most of the time, your parental feeding style can overlap and mingle with a different feeding style.

Childhood Informs Our Feeding Strategies

Our parental feeding style also tends to mimic our own experiences as a child. For example, if you had to finish your meal before you were allowed to leave the table, then you may require your own child to do the same. 

Often, your feeding style will reflect your own childhood experiences with food and eating. They are deeply ingrained, and may become our “go to” method for feeding your children.

Discover Your Parental Feeding Style

Your feeding style warrants attention. Not only are food and nutrition important considerations in the health of your child, the magnitude of daily feeding interactions is equally, if not more, important.

Additionally, you likely have one feeding style that is prevalent in your day to day feeding interactions with your child. However, you can dip into each and every one of these styles from time to time.

For example, when you’re stressed and busy, you might be uninvolved in feeding your child. When you’re in party mode, you may be indulgent. When your child is picky and underweight, you might find yourself becoming more controlling with feeding.

Let’s take a look at the four different parental feeding styles and see where you end up!

The Four Parental Feeding Styles

The scientific literature recognizes four different feeding styles. Over time, some of these descriptive names have changed,  and more recently they are being redefined under the term “food parenting.”

As such, I have taught a course for nutrition professionals to help them understand this new material.

Keep reading to the bottom, as I’ve saved the most desirable feeding style for last. It’s the one that you’ll want to start working toward.

The Controlling Feeding Style

This parental feeding style is also known as a “parent-centered” feeding approach. In the realm of feeding, this style is associated with “The Clean Your Plate Club,” where rules about eating reign, from trying new foods to completing a meal.

Here are some of the common “rules” a controlling feeding style might show:

Dessert is contingent upon eating dinner.

Parents plate the food for their children.

Eating is directed by the parent, such as “take another bite” or “finish your food,” rather than self-directed by the child and his natural appetite. 

The child may not have much say in food choice, and his food preferences and appetite may be ignored by the parent’s wishes about diet quality and eating.

As a result of this feeding style, children may lose a sense of their appetite and an ability to regulate it well. They may overeat to comply with parental requests to eat more or finish the plate of food. Or, they may eat less than they need because they are pushed or pressured too much.

Weight problems, both underweight and overweight, are associated with this feeding style. 

The Indulgent Feeding Style

Being indulgent in your feeding style is also known as the lax or loose style of parenting around food. I often refer to the permissive parent as “The ‘Yes’ Parent.”  

A parent with this style shows the following characteristics: 

Even though “no” or limitations may be the first response to extra food requests or treats, “yes” ultimately reigns.  

The classic example of this is the mother who is attempting to manage the vocal child in the grocery store who wants candy at the checkout stand.  He begs and begs, hearing, “no, no, no…well….okay, I guess so.”  

Children raised with an indulgent style of feeding have a tough time self-regulating their food intake, particularly around sweets. I frequently see a lack of structured meals and snacks, as well as a lack of food boundaries.

As a result, children may struggle with their weight, as research shows that there are few limits on high calorie foods.

Feeding Style - We All Have One (or More) - What's Yours? - YouTube

The Uninvolved Feeding Style

An uninvolved feeding style is less studied in the literature, but as a practitioner, I have seen it in action.

A parent who has an uninvolved feeding style is often:

Ill-prepared in the food department, not shopping for food regularly. Cabinets and refrigerators may be empty or lacking in a variety of food.

There may be no plan for meals, or meals may be left to the last minute.

Food and eating may lack importance to the parent, and that may transfer to feeding their child.

Children who experience an uninvolved feeding style may feel insecure or nervous about food, being unsure about when they will have their next meal, if they will like it, or whether it will be enough.  

These children may become overly focused on food and frequently question the timing and details around mealtime.

The Diplomatic Feeding Style

I call this the “Love with Limits” feeding style, because it promotes independent thinking and eating regulation within your child, but it also sets boundaries your child is expected to operate in.

The diplomatic feeding style focuses on the details around the meal (what will be served, when it will happen, and where it will be served), but allows the child to decide if they will eat what is prepared, and how much they will eat.  

This called The Division of Responsibility, coined by Ellyn Satter.

Trusting your child — his ability to recognize hunger and fullness signals and then eat the amount of food to satisfy those cues — forms the basis of the diplomatic feeding style.

Food boundaries or limits also compose the foundation of this feeding style.

Children raised using this feeding style tend to be leaner, good at regulating their food consumption, and secure with food and eating, according to the research. 

In fact, the most current research advocates this style of parental feeding style as an effective childhood obesity prevention approach. 

I notice that parents who approach feeding kids in this manner have fewer struggles with healthy eating in their kids!


So, what’s your feeding style and how is it affecting your child?

Want to learn more about nourishing your child, inside and out? Tune into my podcast or enroll in my program, The Nourished Child Project!

Pin it!

The post What’s Your Feeding Style? appeared first on Jill Castle.

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April 2019: This post has been updated.

I Pre-Plated Meals My Kids’ Meals

I confess. I was a food plater.

In my early years as a mom, I made healthy meals– selecting, cutting, portioning, plating, pouring and serving all of our family meals to my kids. 

While I didn’t use negative feeding practices like forcing, punishing or bribing my brood to eat, I was definitely deciding what they would eat and how much they would receive.

In other words, I used pre-plated meals as a way to feel in control of my children’s eating.

As such, I wasn’t helping my kids become independent, intuitive or confident with eating using this approach.

Now, I’m a reformed pre-plater of food.

What are Family-Style Meals?

Family-style meals are simply mealtimes where all the food items in the meal are placed in the center of the table. Family members pass items around the table from one to another, selecting food items and serving themselves.

How Family-Style Meals Helped Us

When my four children were 4, 6, 7, and 9 years, I made the switch to family-style meals, and I’ve never looked back.

I’ll never forget my middle daughter’s statement after a week of serving meals our new way,

“Mom, are we going to have a smorgasbord every night?!”

My kids loved it. And despite my later start, they’ve all turned out to be “normal” eaters, from my standpoint. 

Of course, they each have their food preferences and their dislikes. Sometimes they love dinner and eat a lot, and sometimes they don’t.

Best of all, they tolerate the company of a variety of foods on the table, whether they choose to eat them or not.

As a pediatric nutritionist, I’ve learned a lot about kids and their eating through my own tribe, their frequent dinner guests, and from the families I counsel in my private practice.

I’m sharing some highlights with you here:

5 Things I Know About Pre-Plating Food 1. Plated meals are based in habits, fear, or a desire to control

Sure, it’s easy and efficient to pre-plate food, get it on the table and cleaned up. If you had your food plated as a child, this may be the only way you know how to do it.

But, there are other ways.

Family-style meals puts your child in charge of selecting which foods he will eat, and how much. In contrast, pre-plating does little to teach your child how to make good food choices or how much to eat based on appetite.

2. Pre-plated food puts the food decisions in your hands, not your kids’

Taking full control of what and how much your child eats — or being too controlling — is a recipe for revolt down the road. They may overeat when on their own, or sneak food behind your back.

When you make these food decisions for your child, you rob them the experience of learning to listen to their appetite, navigating what makes up a healthy meal, and practicing balance in eating.

Family-style meals, on the other hand, allow kids to see the variety of meal components (a representation of all food groups, preferably) and gives them autonomy with food selection.

3. Parents often over-estimate portion sizes

It’s true. Because portions are so distorted nowadays, you may over-serve your child, offering adult-size portions without even knowing it. Your child may get accustomed to eating larger amounts of food.

Rather, family-style meals allow a child to figure out how much food is the right amount for his body.

4. Pre-plating food may stimulate friction at the table

When you’ve pre-plated a meal for your child, you become invested in how much your child eats. When your child doesn’t comply, the urge to remind, pressure or threaten your child to eat what’s on the plate may result in a battle of wills with your child.

And parents usually lose in the long run.

Family-style meals offer a more relaxed atmosphere and minimizes friction as long as you maintain Satter’s Division of Responsibility and an authoritative feeding style

5. Pre-plating food may set up impossible expectations

Children can be overwhelmed when faced with a plate full of food, foreign or not. If food items are new, or difficult to identify, then your child’s stress and anxiety can build up.

A timid or cautious personality faced with new food, and lots of it, can retreat—with his mouth closed.

And, let’s not forget the sense of failure you may feel when your child rejects the meal you’ve worked so hard on.

If meals are difficult in your household, maybe it’s time to try a new approach. Yes, it takes some trust or maybe even a leap of faith to completely change your feeding style.

You might need to change your mindset, as well.

But it really isn’t that hard to experiment with family-style feeding. You may even give up “food plating.”

What have you got to lose? After all, you can teach an old dog new tricks—I’m living proof.

Do you pre-plate food? Or are you a supporter of family-style meals?

Need More Help?

My workbook, Try New Food: How to Help Picky Eaters Taste, Eat & Like New Foods is a thorough guidebook to help your child branch out with new foods. Using my systematic, step-by-step approach, you’ll be helping your child try new foods in no time!

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Healthy Muffins for Kids

For me, muffins speak “winter.” I rarely fire up the oven to bake muffins in the spring or summer.

So, with winter on its way out (hopefully!), one last batch of muffins for the winter seems like the right thing to do. Whether you’re hankering for blueberry muffins or banana muffins or another type of muffin, I’ve got an extensive list of healthy muffin recipes from my fellow dietitians to share with you.

Dietitians do a great job of working in flavor, nutrition, and kid-appeal all at once!

Are Muffins Healthy?

Most kids I know love muffins. They like to eat them for breakfast, snack time, or even part of their lunchtime fare.

Muffins are a versatile way to pack in nutrition, especially with helping kids get more fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes I even use muffins as a vehicle to introduce fruits and vegetables to kids who might otherwise be resistant to trying new foods. You’d be surprised to hear that kids who won’t touch a veggie may be open to a zucchini chocolate chip muffin. A step in the right direction!

Got a picky eater in the house, an athlete, or simply want to build more variety into your meal and snack offerings?

Give these healthy muffin recipes a try!

Better yet, make these and stock them in the freezer. You’ll have muffins all spring and summer long.

23 Healthy Muffin Recipes for Your Kids 

In this list of muffin recipes, you’ll find all kinds of flavor combinations. I encourage you to branch out and try a new flavor combination!

Cinnamon Spice Muffins by Amy Gorin. A classic breakfast muffin.

Banana Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal Muffins by Linzy Ziegelbaum. We are wild for bananas and peanut butter in my house. The added oatmeal bumps up the fiber.

Double Banana Coconut Muffins by Sharon Palmer. Always nice to have a healthy banana muffin recipe on hand.

Blueberry Oat Muffins by Marie Dittmer at Healthy Ideas Place. Ditto for a healthy blueberry muffin recipe!

Chocolate Cherry Muffins (Gluten-free) by Shannon Aleise Garcia (Lone Star Nutrition). I’ve never made this combination before, so this one is on my list! 

Cardamom Oat Muffins by Halsa Nutrition. Ditto — I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with cardamom…hmmm.

Banana Pumpkin Muffins by One Hungry Bunny (Katie Pfeffer-Scanlan). This is a yummy take on a healthy pumpkin muffin recipe.

Whole Grain Double Chocolate Muffins by Jessica Levinson at Nutritioulicious. Chocolate?! Yes, please!

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins by Nazema Qureshi at Nutrition by Nazema. I was able to get one of my picky eater clients to agree to tasting zucchini in a muffin like this.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins by Dixya Bhattarai at Food Pleasure and Health. 

Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham Muffins by Betsy Ramirez at Betsy’s Kitchen Table. Check these out for something different — a savory muffin recipe.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins by Jessica Elyse of Smart Nutrition. These are a go-to in my house.

Chocolate Cashew Butter Zucchini Muffins by Katie Cavuto. Cashew butter as a muffin ingredient sounds like a brilliant idea to me. 

Zucchini Muffins with Skyr by Abbie Gelman at Culinary Nutrition Cuisine. Skyr is a high protein food that is similar to Greek yogurt. It will bump up the protein in breakfast, certainly!

Double Chocolate Mini Muffins by Holley Grainger. Mini muffins are perfect for snack time.

Blueberry Oats and Maple Muffins by Victoria Shanta Retelny at Simple Cravings Real Food. I like the idea of using maple syrup as a sweetener in baked goods.

Coconut Oil Banana Muffins by Lindsay Livingston at The Lean Green Bean. Banana muffins are so versatile and a real kid-pleaser!

Whole Grain Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins by Julia Whitney Robarts of Juggling with Julia. An interesting twist on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Mini Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins by Meal Makeover Moms. I’m giving these a try!

Whole Wheat Meyer Lemon Ricotta Muffins by Kara Lydon Evancho. Lovely combination. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Breakfast Muffins by Meg Beste Salvia of Mostly Balanced. A twist on the classic pie.


Healthier Walnut Raisin Muffins by Liz Ward at Better is the New Perfect. I love to see nuts in muffins, but if you have a food allergic child, then just skip them.

Fresh Raspberry Muffins by me!

What is your favorite healthy muffin recipe?

The post 23 Healthy Muffin Recipes for Kids appeared first on Jill Castle.

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