To Combat Childhood Obesity and Raise Healthy Eaters, Nutrition Experts Advise Feeding Strategies and Family Meals

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Prominent registered dietitians urge parents to focus on how they feed children to reduce childhood obesity, improve nutrition and end dinnertime drama. During a live webinar, hosted by Dairy Council of California, registered dietitians also stressed the importance of family meals and eating foods from all the food groups.

Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters urges family meals, feeding styles and division of responsibility in feeding

Focusing on how—not just what— to feed children helps parents raise healthy eaters and prevent childhood obesity.

Family meals provide over 28,000 opportunities for parents to instill lasting healthy-eating habits.

With childhood obesity and related chronic disease rates skyrocketing, prominent registered-dietitian experts urge parents to worry less about what we are feeding our children, and instead, focus more on how we are feeding them.

This change in approach, presented during a live webinar on May 18 and hosted by Dairy Council of California, should help parents raise healthy eaters and end the dinnertime drama that both parents and their children have grown to dread.

Janet Helm, M.S., R.D., author of, opened the webinar with data from the American Dietetic Association's “State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity” report, showing that families are more aware of what they should not eat than what they should eat. “We need to move from what we eat to how we eat and take a positive approach to feeding our children,” said Helm, a mother of twins. “Doing so means we’ll have better-nourished children with healthier attitudes about food.”

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a registered dietitian who created and focuses on child-feeding issues, urged parents to focus on the long term when it comes to feeding, and relinquish some control back to children. “Parents should set the meal times, offer healthy foods from all the food groups and model healthy eating habits,” said Jacobsen. “But, ultimately, children should be given the opportunity to choose what they want to eat and how much at mealtimes.”

This approach, outlined in Ellyn Satter’s “Division of Responsibility in Feeding Model,” has long been held as the gold standard among nutrition experts for feeding children. However, this approach for developing a specific strategy to raise healthy eaters has not necessarily reached the mainstream parent.

“The long-term benefits of having a feeding strategy in place can’t be measured just in fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Jacobsen. “But you’ll know it’s working when your kids enjoy eating and want to come to the table.”

“Getting children to the table is essential to raise healthy eaters,” says Jill Castle, registered dietitian, pediatric nutrition specialist and author of “But parents need to also use positive feeding approaches at the table—not tactics that can backfire and lead to negative interactions and nutrition problems in the long run. While there’s a world of influences sending potentially negative messages about food to your child, family meals provide over 28,000 opportunities for parents to instill lasting healthy-eating habits.”

“As parents, we have to let go of the idea of the perfect, cooked-from-scratch meal,” said Andrea Garen, registered dietitian and mom of two. “If half of your meal is take-out chicken or a simple sandwich, and you serve it with salad or fruit and milk to drink, it’s OK. You’re eating a balanced meal together as a family, and that’s what is most important.”

For more tips on raising healthy eaters presented by registered dietitians, be sure to read “Ten Simple Ways Parents Can Eat, Play, Love to Raise Healthy Eaters.” A recording of the webinar is also available for download at

About Dairy Council of California and
Through the nutrition education programs they develop, Dairy Council of California promotes nutrient-rich choices from all food groups and regular physical activity as the foundation for optimal health. Healthy Eating Made Easier®.

Meals Matter is a free family nutrition and meal-planning website staffed by registered dietitians with the Dairy Council of California.

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Sara Floor Miller
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