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Fostering Age Appropriate Feeding Strategies

Understanding how the stages of development affect children’s dietary behaviors can be helpful. These different abilities affect what parents can expect. Encourage parents to know their children's needs at different stages of development. Help parents:

  • Learn about the stages of development (see additional resources for some helpful websites).
  • Learn their children's cues for hunger, fullness, and tiredness.


  • Cannot control their behavior or sit still for very long.
    • Keep mealtimes short.
    • Bring them to the table hungry and have the food ready to be served.
  • Have high activity levels.
    • Snacks help fuel their activity levels throughout the day.
    • Make sure the snacks are spaced far enough from mealtimes so they are hungry.
  • Love to feel in control.
    • Give them a sense of control over their diets.
    • Give a few (2 to 3) healthy options and let them choose. This helps them learn decision making skills.
    • Let them decide when they are full.
    • Let them serve themselves when possible.


  • Love predictability.
    • Create stable routines around mealtimes.
  • Are better able to control their behavior.
    • Expect them to be able to sit through a short mealtime.
  • Like to be social.
    • Engage them in the social aspect of a meal. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a "yes/no" response. Ask follow-up questions to show you are listening.
  • Want to be independent but are still learning how to make good decisions.
    • Continue to offer a limited number of choices. All of the choices offered should be acceptable to the parent.
    • Offer guidance: “What are some good things about this one?” “Is there something one of these has that the others don’t”


  • Have better decision making skills. Can weigh pros and cons but still need some guidance.
    • Give them chances to make food decisions. Choose items for their lunches. Select a meal for one family meal a week.
    • Give them some responsibility for their own feeding, like preparing their own breakfast.
  • Can sit still longer and interact socially.
    • Expect them to sit through a mealtime.
    • Set expectations for involvement during mealtimes. Sharing something from their day, asking to be excused, cleaning the table/doing dishes.
  • Are more influenced by their peers.
    • Will want to eat the same things they see their friends eating.
    • Have conversations about your family’s values and why you have them.
    • Get to know their friends.