Here at GoBe Kids, we strive to foster positive, healthy eating habits with our little ones. This includes encouraging them to respect their bodies, set boundaries, and appreciate how different foods make them feel. A recent Gerber survey revealed that more than 83% of parents worry about their kids’ eating habits, with 55% of those parents admitting that they struggle to find ways to introduce new foods to their child. By encouraging intuitive eating to help build the foundation for a healthy relationship with food, we can strengthen not only their confidence — but ours, too.
Check out some of our favorite ways to introduce intuitive eating in your home, and share your thoughts on how we can continue building confident kiddos who have healthy relationships with their bodies!
1. Keep conversations about food neutral yet engaging
As counterintuitive as it might seem, the best reaction to your kid’s food choices is no reaction at all. We know this is easier said than done, but it’s definitely worth the effort! Keep conversations neutral, yet engaging by asking your little ones questions about what they like or dislike about certain foods ⎼ and lean in to what they say. Respect their opinions. If your little one mentions that they love chocolate chip cookies, ask them what it is about chocolate chip cookies that they like. Is it the crunchy texture, sweet flavor, the round shape, or the immediate burst of energy the cookie makes them feel? Explaining how different foods support different parts of their body is a great way to encourage them to listen to their bodies’ signals. For example, letting your little one know that carrots will help them see better or honey will give them a boost of energy is an awesome first step to get them thinking intuitively about food. The goal is to set your little ones up with the tools they need to develop a healthy, balanced relationship with food.
In the same spirit, we don’t want our kids to view “unhealthy” foods as forbidden, creating an environment for them where they hold a lot of guilt. We’ve found that taking a different approach to dessert, for example, and offering it with dinner and less as a treat or reward is a great way to start. We want to keep mealtime a positive, fun experience that we look forward to every day! Taking advantage of this time to bond with our kiddos can be a wonderful way to create joyful memories together while also fostering a positive association with food. Remember that raising a competent eater is a learning experience for both you and your child. YOU know your child best, so don’t be afraid to tweak and customize feeding advice to best fit your child’s personality.
2. Channel Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibilities feeding techniques
One of our favorite nutritionists to seek advice from when it comes to fostering healthy relationships between food and kiddos is Ellyn Satter, who created the “Division of Responsibilities” feeding philosophy. Here’s the premise: as a parent, you are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding. Your child is then responsible for how much and if. Remember that the parent is also in charge of creating a constructive, positive eating environment.
Focus on providing a variety of options to your child at mealtime, but never force, bribe, or punish your children for their eating habits. This goes back to the point above about creating a positive experience. Giving kids autonomy and reducing mealtime pressure goes a long way.
Our founders Solanda and Joseph leaned heavily into this theory when creating the GoBe Snack Spinner⎼the individual compartments allow caregivers to present a variety of snack options at once, and kiddos get to choose what they want to eat by pressing a button. You can use the Snack Spinner as a fun way to introduce a variety of foods. Offer snacks like dried fruits, banana chips, baby carrots, and cucumbers, as well as sweet and savory snacks like chocolate chips or goldfish. This can help your little one decide which ones they like, without making dessert feel forbidden.
3. Appreciate your kids’ wishes, but don’t make accommodations
As hard as it is, we don’t want to force little ones to eat meals they don’t want to eat. But this doesn’t mean we should exclusively accommodate them either. Provide several options at mealtime, and what they eat is up to them. We recommend providing at least one “safe” food, or a well-balanced food you know your toddler or child is comfortable with. Setting the table family-style with one safe food and several other options they might not have tried before can help them feel in control about what they put on their plate, and make them feel more open to new options. Remember it takes most kids around 8-15 exposures to new foods before they accept them, so be patient with your little ones (and yourself!).
4. Model healthy eating habits
If you’re like us, your little one mimics everything you do. Food habits are no different. Little ones pick up eating habits like what we eat, don’t eat, how much, and when. It is likely that they will develop habits similar to yours… so if you want them to try a variety of whole foods, make sure to eat them in their presence. You don’t have to hold yourself back from grabbing that scoop of ice cream or slice of cheesecake to be an awesome example for your child; we want our kids to know it's okay to enjoy sweets and desserts. A balanced, well-rounded approach to eating is a healthy one!
5. Have fun!
You can help create a positive experience by encouraging your kids to experiment with different flavors like salt and sugar and textures like soft and crunchy. Let them have fun! They can combine their challenge foods (or ones they don’t typically grab) by combining them with something they’re comfortable with. A great example of this is adding some cheese sauce to broccoli, or adding maple syrup to oatmeal.
Children love to have access to different textures, shapes, and tastes. Another way to create a positive, fun experience is by providing a variety of crunchy, gooey, soft, and firm options during snack time or mealtime. If you find that your child has a strong preference for a specific texture, still include at least one different texture in a section of their Snack Spinner or on their plate to get them more comfortable with trying new things.
Above all, be patient with your child (and yourself!). Remember that your long-term goal is to raise healthy, intuitive eaters that learn how to trust themselves and their body’s signals when it comes to food. You got this!💪👏
Quick shout-out to Abbey Sharp, the Ellyn Satter Institute, and Gerber for doing an amazing job researching, explaining, and teaching us about the best feeding methods. Feel free to look into their work, which you can find listed below.
- Sofia, from the GoBe Team
Satter, Ellyn. “Raise a Healthy Child Who Is a Joy to Feed.”Ellyn Satter Institute, 2023, https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/.
Staples, Joseph. “Majority of Parents Worry Their Kids Might Not Get the Nutrients They Need Because of Their Fussiness over Food.”Digitalhub US, 8 July 2022, https://swnsdigital.com/us/2022/07/majority-of-parents-worry-their-kids-might-not-get-the-nutrients-they-need-because-of-their-fussiness-over-food/.
Sharp, Abbey.How to Raise a Healthy Intuitive Eater & Stop Picky Eating (Division of Responsibility of Feeding). Youtube, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93ZEhcr1BPE.
Photo by: Kyle Nieber