Take Back Your Kitchen! (Tips for Raising “Fearless” Feeders)


I get a lot of questions from parents struggling to feed their, um, let’s say “selective” eaters.  Some kids eat everything and some kids eat four things.  Literally…four things.  And it’s hard.  Even when you think you’ve done absolutely everything to make eating happen…sometimes you just get one who digs in his heels and says, “Not me.  I’m not eating that!”  Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen have an AMAZING new book out that addresses this common childhood issue.  It’s packed full of interesting information and useful tips and strategies.  Plus…it’s entertaining.  I was introduced to Jill through our fantastic literary agent, and I love, love, love this book.  It’s a must read for all parents!  Jill is here today to share a few tips on ways to take back your kitchen.  Please give her a warm Practical welcome and leave her any follow up questions in the comments – she will be checking!

Are You in Control of Your Kitchen?

By Jill Castle, MS, RDN

“The kitchen is closed,” I said to my son, age eleven, who was heading in for a one o’clock snack, right after lunch. “Ahhh,” he moaned, “but I want a snack.”

“I’m sorry but the kitchen is closed, buddy. It’ll be open for afternoon snack at three.”

This dialogue happens quite often at my house. Even as a childhood nutritionist who knows a lot about nutrition and feeding children, my four kids are no different than most kids—they want to eat what they want to eat, and when and where they want to eat it.

Staying in control of my kitchen is a daily juggle. I’m really no different than most parents who juggle feeding, food and the kitchen. But, since I have worked with loads of families, I know that many parents struggle to stay in charge of their kitchen. It’s no wonder! With 23% of kids and 83% of teens snacking daily, more and more parents are trying to assert some control over their kid’s eating.

I’ve got the answer: reclaim control of your kitchen.

I wish I had a statistic to show you how many parents have lost control of their kitchen, but I don’t. What I can say is this: if you have a 24/7 kitchen (open for consumption all the time) or are struggling with your child’s appetite or eating, then you may have lost control of your kitchen.

But I bet you’d like to get it back.

When parents try to reclaim control, they may go about it the wrong way. Some will restrict portions, second helpings or access to all desirable foods in order to control how much their child eats or what they eat, while others will reward their kids with sweets to get them to eat the healthy food, or finish their meal.

You don’t have to use these unproductive methods.

The answer isn’t to strong-arm children to eat this or not that, but rather to reclaim the positive control and leadership that is part of parenting and feeding. Research on childhood development and education tells us that children thrive with routine, structure and boundaries. Just visit a preschool and it’s easy to see teachers showing kids the day-to-day routine, which helps them develop self-control and trust. Employing structure and boundaries to eating does the same, optimizing self-control, hunger management, and ultimately reinforcing the family diet.

Start with Food


When I was growing up, my mother only bought soda for a party, and purchased one bag of Lay’s potato chips and one package of Oreos for the week. Today, parents purchase two to three bags of chips and cookies, plus more snacks. I remember my mom saying, “Go ahead and eat it now, but you won’t be getting any more until the next shopping trip.” Today, parents run back to the store when they run out.

Often, parents don’t realize how powerful the grocery list can be, as it is the key to setting the first boundary: the food that is available to eat. Remember, food that is brought into the home will be eaten. If it’s uncomfortable to watch kids snack on cookies, ice cream, chips or soda each day, then bring them into the home less frequently. Or, eat them outside of your home.

Kids need to see daily examples of nutritious foods, offered in varying patterns. Strike a balance of food that favors plenty of fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and lean sources of protein, whole grains and healthy fats, and low fat dairy items, and make sure to set a limit on sweets, fried foods and soda (but don’t exclude them). There is room for all kinds of food!  Balance is the key.

Build in Structure

Adopting a structure with eating is the best way to ensure children get the nutrients they need each day for optimal growth and development. With over forty daily nutrient requirements, children need to eat every three to five hours, depending on their age (younger kids eat more frequently than older kids), and in smaller portions than adults. Schedule meals (three a day) and snacks (one to three a day) at regular times, so kids don’t get too hungry or too full to eat. Close the kitchen between meals and snacks (no eating).

That’s right, I said close that kitchen. Today, many families have an open-door policy when it comes to the kitchen. Kids are able to help themselves any time of day, to almost anything. Even I tried the snack shelf in the refrigerator when my oldest was a toddler, but I quickly learned that she was hitting up the fridge every hour, on the hour, and not finishing anything she chose to eat! Grazing, which is what an open-door kitchen policy and similar approaches will encourage, sabotages a child’s appetite for meals, setting them up for eating poorly or selectively.

Add in More Boundaries

Set a consistent location for most eating. This helps children focus on what they are eating, and teases out distraction, which can abbreviate eating. Don’t cater–serve one meal for the whole family, and avoid meeting special requests for picky eaters. Make sure to set a menu that represents at least one or two things each family member can eat (milk counts!). Introduce new foods regularly, and make sure there is a food item or two that will be accepted by even the pickiest of eaters. Being a little bit unpredictable with the menu keeps interest up and allows you to be adventurous with food variety—a key to healthy eating.

While this may be an old-fashioned, common sense approach (remember how your grandmother fed the family?), it works. How will you take back control of your kitchen?


Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert and mom of four. She is the co-author of the new book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (LINK: www.fearlessfeeding.com) You can also find her over at her blog, Just the Right Byte (www.justtherightbyte.com) or her website (www.JillCastle.com

Isn’t Jill great??  Now go ahead…leave her some questions below!!!!

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)