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How To Be a Positive Authority With Food

Jill Castle

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Our feeding style is in line with our parenting style. How can you become more authoritative and less authoritarian, neglectful, or permissive in your feeding approach? Research tells us that the authoritative feeding style is the most effective way to promote healthy weight, child-regulated eating, and a positive attitude and relationship with food.

Can parents change their feeding style?  Of course!

Here are some ways to change the dynamic around food and feeding in your home and with your child:

Use the Division of Responsibility (DOR) when feeding your child.  Take on the job of deciding what foods you will serve (balanced, wholesome options), where you will serve them (kitchen table), and when you will serve them.  Let your child decide whether he will eat what you’ve provided, and how much he will eat.

Trust Your Child to eat the right amounts.  Ultimately, you want your child to figure out when they are hungry and when they are full, and the amounts of food they eat should reflect their appetite. It is natural for children to miss the mark on eating:  overeating and under-eating is part of figuring out how much your body needs.  Help your child figure out what works for him in a trusting environment.


Ditch the Plate Method and opt for family-style meals. Serving meals family-style simply means placing food items on platters or in bowls. Passing food around the table allows your child to refuse food or take an amount that is right for him.  Plating foods for your child takes control away from him, and makes you the regulator of what and how much is eaten.  This may interfere with your child’s ability to learn self-regulation, a necessary tool for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Provide Don’t Deprive Parents who take on a provider mentality take the job of feeding seriously.  A serious provider will have well-planned meals, a kitchen that is adequately stocked with nutritious foods, and will prioritize family mealtime.  When you are timely with meals and snacks, your child will likely have a predictable hunger pattern.  When you stock the kitchen with foods that contribute nutrition to your child’s diet, it’s easy to say “yes” when he is hungry and asks for food.  Don’t make the mistake of being a “depriver.” Research shows that restricting or controlling food intake is associated with overeating and weight gain in children.

Preparation x 3 The key to success is preparation, preparation, preparation. Plan the menu, gather the food, and make it!  But, don’t fall prey to being a short-order cook; set the menu and stick to it.


Don’t Evaluate Food and Eating Performance at the table. Children don’t need to be pressured about eating or not eating. The more you lay it on, the more self-conscious and bad your child feels, which may trigger overeating or not eating at all.

Choice not Ultimatums Remember the guideline for toddlers? Give two options. This works for older kids too. “Would you like an apple with peanut butter, or crackers with peanut butter for your after-school snack?” Giving choices, but not too many, allows your child to make good decisions about food and feel in control of their body and their eating.

Keep it Positive What are meal times like in your home?  Do your children argue, insult and put one another down, or throw temper tantrums at the meal table?  Do the parents get frustrated, shout, punish, or give the silent treatment? Meal times should be pleasant, supportive, and engaging. Manners should be taught and used. Keeping a positive attitude and reasonable expectations around mealtime manners, conversation, and interactions among family members will go a long way toward creating a mealtime environment in which your child wants to be a part.

Just a little movement toward authoritative feeding can make a big difference in your child’s attitudes and actions about food and eating!

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Jill Castle

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with expertise in pediatric nutrition. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, and creator of Just the Right Byte, a childhood nutrition blog. Follow Jill on Twitter @pediRD and Facebook.