Tips for Feeding Healthy and Happy Kids: An Interview with Ellyn Satter

We chatted with child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter to weigh in on the right and wrong way to feed kids.

If the struggle to get your kids to eat right is driving you nuts, there’s hope! We asked registered dietitian and (my all-time-favorite) child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter to weigh in.

Q: Why do so many parents have trouble feeding their kids? A: Because they care so much. Parents have been brainwashed about what is good and bad nutrition-wise and feel pressured to produce a healthy child.

The most important thing is the family meal. The parents’ job is to help preserve a positive attitude about eating.  It almost doesn’t matter what you’re eating as long as it’s together. Once parents can establish structure and rhythm to getting meals on the table, creativity will start to kick in and deciding what to serve gets easier.

Q: When it comes to feeding kids, what’s the biggest mistake parents make? A: Parents often provide too little support and too much interference – insisting and bribery don’t work. You can’t fool a child. Parents need to trust that the child will learn to make smart decisions when it comes to what they eat. Q: What are your top 3 tips to help parents deal with picky eaters?
  1. Understand normal eating patterns. Children are naturally erratic, one day they’ll appear to love a particular food, another day they’ll treat it like poison. It takes a number of exposures for children to decide if they truly like a food. Fifteen to twenty is a popular figure, but it really may be 40 to 80 exposures.
  2. Don’t limit the menu to foods the child readily accepts. It gives them too much power. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting the meal to accommodate their abilities. For example, when serving spaghetti with meat sauce present it on the plate with the pasta, meat sauce and Parmesan cheese in separate piles to make eating it easier.
  3. Trust the child to grow into learning how to eat.

Q: How do you feel about parents sneaking fruits and veggies into kids’ meals? A: Inclusion of a wide variety of foods in recipes a good thing but I don't agree with "sneaking." They’ll catch on and not trust you. Parents also need to lead by example: For a kid to like broccoli, someone else in the family has to eat broccoli.

Q: How does the childhood obesity epidemic factor into to your philosophy? A: It’s all about the division of responsibility. The parent takes care of the what, where and when, and then trusts the child to eat and grow how nature intended. If parents push certain foods, amounts of food, or tries to restrict the amount of food children are allowed to have it can make them food preoccupied and prone to overeat.

We asked Ellyn to share a recipe with us. We excitedly dug into her book Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family and chose this easy and deliciously simple chicken dish. Ellyn recommends serving it with roasted broccoli, rice, ciabatta bread, butter, seasonal fruit and milk. Yum!

Pesto-Parmesan Chicken
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 1 ½ pounds
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan, Romano, or Asiago Cheese, about 6 ounces

6 tablespoons pesto

Preheat oven to 425-degrees F. Mix 2 tablespoons grated cheese with pesto. Rub or pat pesto mixture onto chicken breast until you have a light, even coating. Sprinkle the remaining cheese onto a plate. Press both sides of the chicken into the cheese to form a coating. You will probably need to refresh your plate of grated cheese several times. Be careful that you do not contaminate your container of cheese by handling it after you have handled the raw chicken. Place chicken into a 10x6-inch baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes to an internal temperature of 165-degrees F.

Tell Us: What's your biggest struggle when it comes to feeding your family?
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