Creating Responsive Feeding Environments

Children enrolled in early care and education programs will typically eat several meals and snacks throughout the day.  It is important that during those mealtime routines, children are guided in ways that help them develop healthy relationships with food.  One way to ensure this is to employ responsive feeding practices that respect the needs of individual children.  Here are a few important responsive feeding practices that you should keep in mind:

  • Mealtimes should be relaxing, unrushed, and enjoyable events.
  • Teachers should engage with children and avoid distractions during mealtimes.
  • Caregivers should watch children for signs of hunger and satiety (feeling full) and respect them.
  • Children should not be forced to eat or clean their plates.
  • Teachers should encourage children to try new foods and recognize children may need to experience new foods several times before they “like” them.
  • New foods are introduced one at a time, and in small amounts.
  • Teachers should show curiosity and excitement about the foods being served.
  • Teachers should honor children’s likes and dislikes, for reasons related to things such as taste and texture.
  • Teachers should not withhold food as a punishment or use food as a reward.
  • Teachers should be familiar with the recommended portion sizes for the age of the children in their care.
  • Food restrictions based on religion, medical reasons, or family preferences must be acknowledged, followed, and discussed respectfully.

One way to create responsive feeding practices is to evaluate the role that culture and life experiences play in our beliefs, values, and expectations related to food. Are you aware of how your beliefs about food and expectations for children’s consumption were formed?  What food-related beliefs and expectations are held by the families in your program?  How were those beliefs formed?   Here is a resource from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension that contains more information.

Here are two other resources about responsive feeding practices for you to explore and share with families:

Why parents should use responsive feeding with their babies – Harvard Health Publishing

A New Look at Responsive Feeding Practices – Minnesota Department of Health