How we’re feeding Jojo (a toddler).

This has been my most requested post for awhile. I’ve delayed writing it because feeding a toddler has gone like:

1. child asks for a popsicle
2. you give child a popsicle
3. child cries that you gave them a popsicle
4. parent confused

The short answer to how we’re feeding Jojo: Ellyn Satter. Ellyn offers a succinct explanation of feeding kids of all ages. I’m gonna be sharing more of the long-winded reality of feeding toddlers. We don’t follow everything recommended by Satter, but if you’re looking for how to maintain your child’s intuitive eating nature and raise a child who trusts their body, Ellyn and the below resources are great.

Born to Eat Book (<–affiliate link)
Crystal Karges website/instagram

I’ll start by saying I’m not a structured person and I don’t like following set rules. I rebelled against much of baby-led weaning because I felt like some of it wasn’t right for us, but I appreciated the emphasis on allowing the child to self-regulate. I do not like authority figures telling me what to do. I prefer to learn from experimenting and seeing what works for us.

More so than how I feed the girls on a daily basis, my hope is that: 1) them being raised in a house with no dieting, 2) the work I’ve done and continue to do to accept my body as it changes and will change, and 3) modeling healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors…will prevent body hatred in them. No one has perfect body image. Our bodies change overtime and it’s normal for that to need adjusting to in a culture that likes one body shape. I don’t believe to raise strong and confident adults any of us mothers should be trying to develop perfect body image (since there isn’t a person out there who doesn’t have a negative thought about there body from time to time), but we should instead model that we’re mindful to take care of our body in spite of it ending up a size we may not be comfortable with AND we don’t speak hate over our body size.

I joke that if our girls ever really wanted to upset me in their angsty teen years they’ll go keto lol. But I hope we instill within them that level of fatness isn’t indicative of worth, that pursuing health doesn’t mean pursing thinness, and movement is joyful and a privilege to be able to do and something you crave if able to connect with body’s cues, rather than a punishment. Their experiences outside the home will influence them, but their foundation will be a home where we care for our bodies, but don’t expect them or need them to end up a specific size. Marci posted the below the other day, which is a good reminder for clinicians when interacting with clients AND a good reminder for moms/dads when interacting with kids.

Jo is about to be two years old. My biggies are letting her learn to self regulate. There are some things I follow from Ellyn Satter and somethings I don’t. I don’t make Jo sit down for every snack or refuse to give her milk or juice between meals. I could see how milk could fill up her tummy quickly and she wouldn’t eat much food afterwards, but that’s not a change I feel like we need to make at this point since she’s still eating food at every meal (sometimes it’s only one bite, but the majority of the time it’s more than that). My friend Hannah over at Circling Grace described a scenario where she felt force fed by her child that I thought was such a good reminder on how forcing our children to take “one more bite” or be a member of The Clean Plate Club could feel – see the screenshot of her Instagram post below. 

To emphasize that we don’t pressure Jojo to clean her plate and instead cultivate the intuitive eater in her who is learning to self regulate her intake, I’ve included some before and after food photos below. With the uneaten food, some of it gets wasted but the majority of the time I’ll stick the leftovers in the fridge and parts of her meals can become a snack or part of another meal.

One of the weird parts of feeding a toddler is that sometimes I tell her no to food and that seems counter intuitive to intuitive eating. Satter says, “Your toddler is at high risk for learning to use food for emotional reasons. Toddlers are active, unceasing in their demands and prone to get upset. It is tempting to give food to quell the riot. Don’t. Instead, stick to scheduled feedings and sort out whether your child is hungry or sad, full or tired. Give attention, discipline, hugs or naps.”

Phew. If one has ever tried to figure out the need of a tantruming toddler you have to laugh a bit at that recommendation lol. But I think what she says is good. From that I get…model multiple ways to cope with discomfort and walk your child through that process. Pay attention to your child and get to know them. I’m on board with that. I discussed something similar for adults to take notice of in my You Have Two Kinds of Hunger post.

Just like as you get to know yourself you are able to know if you need food, connection, or a timeout…you learn to support your child and walk them through the process as they’re sorting this out for themselves.

Some alternative soothing ideas we’ve tried when Jo is screaming for a popsicle but we just ate 2 seconds ago and she didn’t touch her food include first telling Jo we’re not eating right now because we just had lunch and you didn’t eat much, we can have “x” food for a snack in a couple hours…and then we redirect to watching a TV show to just chill out for a bit, going outside and saying “hi, flowers. hi, trees. hi, birds. etc.”, going to take a nap if it’s nap time, going to swing outside in the hammock. I feel like 65% of the time I can tell the difference between when she’s asking for food because she’s extremely tired or when she’s asking for food because she’s actually hungry.

I don’t think we should fear emotional eating. For instance, the below post from Cup of Jo highlighted a mom utilizing emotional eating well imo. It wasn’t emotional eating to numb out, but just emotional eating in recognition of the kiddo having a hard day. 

Know emotional eating is a tool for you when you need it, but don’t let it be the only coping mechanism modeled. I believe and try to implement all that I just said, but sometimes Jo does end up having snacks immediately after a meal or she’s tantruming and I know she doesn’t really need / want the milk or granola bar she is screaming for but I give it to her because any parent knows toddlers be toddlers and sometimes it’s just hard.

For eating disorder prevention, modeling healthy ways of dealing with lives stressors is important to me. That is, stress relievers aside from dieting, body manipulation or exercise. Exercise can be a great way to cope with stress for some, but, like emotional eating, I don’t think it should be your only coping mechanism.

Here are some things we follow when feeding Jo:

  • We follow Ellyn’s Division of Responsibility (most of the time). I chose what, when, and where Jojo eats and she chooses if she wants it and how much. A blog reader commented and simplified this to: “I provide, kid decides.”
  • Since I’m responsible for setting meal and snack times, Jo eats like I eat – meal, snack(s), meal, snack(s), meal (Jo typically doesn’t have a snack after dinner, I 90% of the time do, because she’s going to bed relatively soon after dinner).
  • There is always something she’s familiar with and likes on her plate.
  • If it’s a new food, I try to offer a TINY portion of it (i.e. one small slice of bell pepper…she still hasn’t tried those haha), because otherwise she likely won’t touch it if it’s piled on her plate. If it’s all something new, what she’s familiar with is usually milk/yogurt/bread.
  • We eat all foods at all times of day.
  • I have breakfast with Jo, but her lunch and dinner schedule is different than mine and Andrew’s so sometimes we eat with her and sometimes we eat after she’s gone down for a nap or gone to bed, especially when we feel like we need a break. As she gets older I imagine this will naturally shift to us having more meals all together.
  • We don’t let Jo act like a maniac at the table. If she’s banging her spoon loudly, we ask her to stop and remind her this is meal time where we eat and not music time. If she doesn’t listen we put her on the ground.
  • We offer foods time and time again, she may not touch them for months, but we still offer. Her eating something or not eating something doesn’t determine what we offer her.
  • As to not elevate one food over another, we’ll offer dessert as one of her sides from time to time and she’s allowed to choose what she eats and how much of it – sometimes she only touches the dessert and other times she eats everything on plate.
  • One recommendation from Satter I highly agree with: Get the focus off what they’re eating and instead on how they’re feeling and behaving at meal times. I don’t want meals or snacks to be a stressful/pressure-filled time.
  • If there’s one thing I’d like to get better at it’s figuring out how to handle the dinner meltdown. I feel like while I’m cooking Jo starts melting down and that’s when she ends up having yogurt/cracker/etc. for dinner instead of what I’m cooking for us.

Overall, food isn’t the most important part of our day. We enjoy food, but if we’re at a friends house playing and instead of a lunch we have 3 snacks back to back while the kids play and run around, that’s fine by me. Relationships > perfect meals. One of my friends and I have started serving lunch when we have playdates and that works great so we all can have an actual meal. That came about by trial and error where we moms were ending up overly hungry after playdates, so we discussed and made a change!

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I trust my girls’ bodies to find the size that is right for them. Whatever level of fatness that requires. Regardless of body size, Andrew and I know they can still be healthy and they will be adored by us.

Any tips for feeding toddlers you’ve found helpful? I know there are many instagram accounts for feeding toddlers, so please list your favorites as a resource for others!


  1. This is so great! There is so much pressure now to feed toddlers a certain way, and it’s really so simple. You serve them food, they pick what to eat, and you move on with the day! At the risk of sounding like a terrible parent, we use technology (gasp!) to our advantage at dinner time. We endured months of whining and pulling at my pant legs while I was preparing dinner before I realized everyone was happy if we used 1/2 hour of tv time while I unpacked backpacks and started dinner. I was free to cook, the kids got some downtime after a full day of playing, and we all reconnected during and after dinner. Our evenings are much more peaceful. Technology is like comfort food, it fits when it’s part of a bigger plan that includes lots of love and lots of play! 

    • I agree! Whenever we get home from work/daycare I let my son watch one episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I unpack lunchboxes, start dinner, and start feeding my 8 month old. I used to feel bad doing it, but it’s so nice for everyone’s sanity!

    • Love it. Thanks for sharing, Shana!

  2. I love this post! My son will be 3 in January and has always been in the 90+ percentile for weight (usually somewhere between 80th and 90th for height) and has always had a great appetite and enjoys food. I always felt lucky when he was a baby/toddler that he ate well when I had friends who were struggling to get their kids to eat. But last week, my 8 month old daughter had an ear infection so we went to the doctor, and the nurse let my son step on the scale for fun. When she saw that he is already 40 lbs. she made a comment like “wow! He must be eating too much of the good stuff!” It immediately made me angry. I feed my son a variety of foods, never force him to clean his plate, and if he asks for a “treat” after dinner when he sees me eating something I always let him have a few bites. I’ve worked really hard at intuitive eating myself and am determined to make sure my kids are the same way. But as soon as the nurse made this comment I found myself worrying. “Am I feeding him too much food?” “Maybe I should cut out the treats after dinner…” “Is she telling me that he’s unhealthy?” I think it’s normal for us to worry about everything as parents, but when you said “regardless of body size Andrew and I know they can still be healthy and will be adored by us,” it really resonated with me. I need to trust that my kids can be healthy at any size, and the last thing I want is for them to think that I am worried about their size! So, long story short, thank you for a great post! :)

  3. Yes yes yes!! Love this post. We follow DOR and use a lot of Ellyn’s strategies. I’m in a Facebook Group for parents that follow this type of feeding approach and I’ve learned so much. One tip I’ve been following with my 4 year old is deconstructed meals. He’s not big on a bunch of ingredients all together, but he’ll eat the elements of the meal separately, i.e., if we’re having tacos, he will eat the tortilla by itself, chicken by itself, avocado by itself, tomato by itself, etc. And it’s so much less stressful. Also, for the pre-dinner meltdowns, we sometimes do a fruit/veggie tray to ward off the hangries.

  4. Thanks for this! My son is only 3 months old but I am starting to think ahead about introducing food. I just started reading Born to Eat. I also really recommend Feeding Littles on Instagram! The account is run by an RD and an OT, they have lots of great posts geared towards BLW, raising intuitive eaters, varied food exposure, and addressing picky eating. I’m an OT and I love them from an OT perspective and an IE perspective. 

  5. Enjoyed reading about your family and feeding a toddler! ! I have a 26 month old and now a 6 month old. I really loved everything i learned from Feeding Littles. And even though they teach a baby led weaning method, they often share about how you can combine that method with purées and more traditional baby feeding methods and I think it’s great that they refrain from being black and white! They also have great ideas for toddler and kid lunches and just making food fun and not a big deal. Also love Crystal K as you mentioned! 

    I almost always use some tv time while I cook dinner. I love to cook but cooking while my toddler loses it at my feet is the opposite of fun. It has worked really well for us. One change I made recently was to stop letting him carry around his snack throughout the whole house and drag out snack time for 2+ hours. Similar to meals, I try to have more of a window of time that is officially “snack time” to encourage him to eat and then that gives us more of a break between snack and meal so his appetite can build again. 

    He is also very interested in helping prep food these days and I’ve noticed he is more apt to eat things on his plate when he got to help make them. One thing I’m trying to figure out is how to avoid the meltdown that happens every time the fridge is opened for something and he catches sight of cheese (or grapes!). He will almost always ask for it but I also follow the “I provide, he decides” method of eating so I don’t always serve something when he asks for it. Maybe it’s as simple as putting those foods in a basket that is not transparent so he doesn’t see it when the fridge is opened. 

  6. I love this post! I was just telling a friend that it feels like such an effort to raise a body positive child when there’s so much diet culture around. How do you handle feeding Jo at a meal where others have different ways of feeding that you don’t agree with? For example, we have family members that do “clean plate club” and use dessert as an incentive/reward. We never do that, and while our daughter is still too young to understand, I know that conversation is coming soon. Would you just say “different families have different rules”? Ugh it feels like such a minefield!

    • Hi! I heard something recently that I think may be helpful here. It’s thinking about is this person “reachable and teachable?” and then allocate your energy. Some are not interested in being or raising an intuitive eater and nothing I say or do will change that. All I can do is do what I believe is right for our family.

      As far as what to say to the kids when seeing or hearing people diet/restrict, I think it’ll likely be an ongoing conversation similar to any other thing I’d rather the kids not do because I think it could harm them.

  7. Thank you for this, Kylie. My son is a year and half and I’ve been trying to follow the Ellyn Satter guidelines, but both my husband and I were raised with rather dysfunctional attitudes surrounding food and weight, so I worry about this a lot. I appreciate your thoughtful ideas and the encouragement to keep at it!

  8. Kylie,

    I absolutely love reading your blog and updates! You are such an encouragement!!! About 2 years ago I kicked disordered eating for intuitive eating and as you know it’s life changing!!! It’s been a long but rewarding road.

    I have a 4 year old and 14 month old and recently heard about the divison of responsibility, etc and am reading the book and have started her methods. However, I’m so conflicted and confused about treats like fruit snacks, cookies and candy. Coming from a disordered background and not wanting my kiddos to have disordered eating, I have no idea what normal is for those things and how often I should allow them. My 4 year old requests one of them at least every day. I want to balance health too, but am not sure what that means!

    Any input or thoughts would be appreciated! Thank you!!

    • Hi Katie Jo! Yay for trading disordered eating for IE! :) Everything you listed is a carb…fruit snacks, cookies, candy. I don’t think any carb needs to be feared. A good question may be how could I help my child not elevate these carbs over other carbs? Perhaps offering cookies/candy regularly (daily / a few times a week) as part of a meal (ex. lasagna, piece of Halloween candy, green beans…all on a plate together as to not give special attention to the candy and to make it a non event that candy is being offered). Is this something you have already tried?

      • Kylie,

        Thank you so much for your response!!

        I just read your reply to another post where you stated you have to ask yourself if a person is teachable and reachable. I love that and think it applies to numerous aspects of life, like trying to share Christ.

        Anyway! I have given it with meals, but I think I need to do a better job of not making it a big deal. Is it normal eating (because I have no idea sometimes still) if she wants numerous pieces of candy a day. Do you recommend offering with meals vs snacks? Certain amounts?

  9. Thank you for this post! I learn so much from you. The only thing that helped us avoid those dinner time meltdowns was prepping dinner earlier in the day, maybe after breakfast or lunch while you’re in the kitchen. I would wash and chop veggies for instance. Then when it was time to make dinner, the little ones didn’t have to wait long. 

    • Organization isn’t my strong suit haha, but I know being a bit more organized with dinner prep earlier in the day would help a lot! Thanks for reading and commenting, Kelly!

  10. Kylie, you are amazing, sweet mama. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your wisdom as you navigate motherhood with your precious girls. Your daughters are so very blessed to have you as their mama. And thank you so much for the very thoughtful mention – I so appreciate you including me as a resource and for your generous support! Thank you for all you do and give to our community – you are truly a light! God bless you and your beautiful family. Warmly, Crystal

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  12. it’s so great that you’re here to share your life and how you live on maternity leave and how you share your life. After all it is not easy in fact and so informative to read about others and about the other life of other people especially when it is so bright and rich

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