Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much

Rate this book
Answering a multitude of questions—such as What should a parent do with a child who wants to snack continuously? How should parents deal with a young teen who has declared herself a vegetarian and refuses to eat any type of meat? Or What can parents do with a child who claims he doesn't like what's been prepared, only to turn around and eat it at his friend's house?—this guide explores the relationship between parents, children, and food in a warm, friendly, and supportive way.

408 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1987

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ellyn Satter

13 books29 followers
Readers say that Ellyn Satter’s books transformed their lives. Satter writes not only about food, eating, and feeding, but about emotional health and positive family relationships. Satter gives her blessings to all food, and to you for eating it, by sharing her conviction that you and your family are more important than your diet. Satter’s research confirms that your positive feelings about food and eating—and those of your children—do more in terms of nutritional, medical, and emotional health than adhering to a set of rules about what to eat and not to eat. Will letting yourself be positive and joyful with eating make you fat? Despite your worst fears, it will not. People who are competent with eating—who approach eating with optimism, self-trust, and a sense of adventure—weigh less than those who guide their eating with negativity, self-denial, and avoidance.

Satter is an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding. She is a dietitian, family therapist, author, trainer, publisher, and consultant. During her over 40-year clinical career, she worked first as a Registered Dietitian in an outpatient medical practice, then as a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in family-based treatment of eating disorders. Satter created and continues to do research with the Satter Feeding Dynamics Model and the Satter Eating Competence Model. The Ellyn Satter Institute helps the public and professionals apply the models and discover the joys and rewards of being trusting with eating and feeding. Satter is the author of the division of responsibility in feeding , which is considered the gold standard for feeding children. Satter’s “What is normal eating?” is a refrigerator-door and social media icon.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
153 (35%)
4 stars
170 (39%)
3 stars
80 (18%)
2 stars
18 (4%)
1 star
8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 65 reviews
Profile Image for Michelle.
811 reviews73 followers
October 7, 2014
OMG, the longest parenting book ever. Mostly because we're not just focusing on eating; Satter gives a lot of general parenting advice then focuses on how that general advice pertains to eating. And we go from newborns to teenagers. And I read it all, even the chapters that were like, My teenager has an eating disorder! My child is overweight (or might easily become overweight)! These things are not currently my children's issues but I felt like, What if they do become my children's issues?! I must be prepared!

Some background on me: I remember very clearly sitting alone at the dinner table because I had to clear my plate. Miserable, and it didn't turn me into a better eater. I think I became a better eater in college when my tastes changed and I saw the interesting foods my friends were eating. Child #1 (now a teenager): Picky, and Husband and I went the route of "eat everything on your plate" (how we grew up), thus creating many miserable situations for a decade. Child #2, a toddler who was getting increasingly picky and I was like, Oh heck no, I am not a short-order cook. So we sent her to bed without her dinner finished and my heart broke thinking I was starving my sweet baby. She was fine. I bought this book.

Here's the main rule from the book so you don't have to read ~400 pages. You're responsible to provide food to your child (put it on the table), they're responsible for eating it (putting it in their mouths. That's it. It falls in line with the authoritative parenting style (as opposed to the more controlling authoritarian style or the permissive style). Set boundaries and set a good example, but let your kids figure out things for themselves in everything, including food. It clicked for me when Satter talked about food being no different of an arena for you to teach your kids. I practice the authoritative style in everything else, so of course I should when it comes to feeding time.

Another thing Satter said that made me feel so relieved was when she mentioned how much toddlers really need to eat--a tablespoon or two of fruits/vegetables at mealtime, about half an ounce of meat, and the rest is just a bonus. Our doctor has told us many times that as long as Baby gets a full meal's worth throughout the day (for example, dairy and grains in the morning, some fruit and cheese at lunch, meat and veggies at dinner, whatever), that's perfect. So now I'm combining Doctor's and Satter's advice and feeling actually really great about what Baby eats.

Mealtimes are way more relaxed now for everybody. I try not to look at Older Child's plate as she takes what she wants and ignores some things I wish she'd eat (though she is eating more and more healthy options). When Baby says she's done, I trust her. I still get her to try most things, but if she doesn't want to, I don't push it. And when she does try it and says, "I no like it," I tell her it was great she tried, and stop there.

I think in the long run, too, this book will be great for our family, at least I hope so. Satter a little too often just said, Do this, trust me, it'll work. Even when she gave some examples of clients, she didn't give enough follow-up, like one year later or five years later or whatever, this kid is doing great! It was usually something like, I was working with this client, identified the problem, but they moved away, but trust me, I'm sure it worked out. Umm...? That and the repetition of the book (it doesn't matter the stage your child is at, the message is the same), drove me a little batty, thus only three stars.
Profile Image for MaryAnn.
139 reviews
August 7, 2014
My four take-aways from this book are:
1. Respect the division of responsibility in feeding. Parents are responsible for WHAT, children are responsible for HOW MUCH
2. Forcing doesn't work and creates lots of problems. You can't force a child to eat their dinner or eat their peas. What you can do is keep presenting new foods and allow them to determine what they select and how much. If you make a rule that they must taste everything, then you will be more successful of you allow them the option of taking it out of their mouth if they don't like it.
3. Regularly scheduled/planned meals AND snacks & no grazing in between meals. By not allowing grazing or giving handouts, children learn that there is a consequence (hunger) for not eating well at meals, but the planned snack keeps the hunger from becoming too intense.
4. If dessert is part of the meal, then put it on the plate with the rest of dinner. This puts the piece of cake on the same emotional level as the green beans. Often the child will eat dessert first and then move on to the rest of the meal.

What I didn't like: This book is overdue for an update/revision. It was published in 1987 and it shows. The content is good but the presentation is a big sloppy and some of the research is dated. My politically correct language sensors cause me to cringe when I read the author discussing 'fat people' and 'fat children'. The book also is repetitive in places.
Profile Image for Natalie.
26 reviews9 followers
February 24, 2008
This book had some good insight on feeding your children. The basic gist of the book is this - Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the way that it is presented. The child is responsible for how much and even whether they eat. It goes on to say that often we battle over getting our kids to eat and it only makes things worse. If we give them relatively healthy meals and snacks at regular times during the day, our child will learn healthy eating habits, even if sometimes they refuse part or all of the meal.

I liked the ideas overall, but I felt the book was a bit repetitive and had some annoying bits. I didn't read the entire thing cover to cover. I skimmed through it and picked the chapters that I thought were relevant to me and the issues that I face in feeding my children.
Profile Image for Tricia.
107 reviews6 followers
August 16, 2012
I had a child with severe problems of not eating. He had constipation problems, sensory issues, would throw up almost anything I fed him if he would eat anything at all. He was so picky, yet wouldn't eat the only things I could think of that he liked. Reading this book helped me to get him over the hump of actually trying things and learning that eating actually helps you to feel good! I would definitely recommend this book. It may take a long time, but I have definitely seen a difference in my son. He even told me he likes tomatoes the other day!!!
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 1 book643 followers
October 26, 2014
This is an informative and supportive guide for parents to help children learn to eat nutritious meals and form a healthy feeding relationship.

I first learned about this book from a visit to a nutritionist. I wanted to talk with her about reinforcing the lessons I'd already learned about healthy eating for my family as well as about discussing how, as middle aged people, our bodies change, our metabolism slows, and our muscle mass slowly begins to decrease.

I also wanted her advice and support for my attempts to manage my own weight and food intake without impacting the way I approach food with our girls. I don't want them to feel like I am being obsessive about food, weight or diets, since I know they might try to do the same.

While I am happy about my own weight and body image, I also want to halt the slow weight gain I'd noticed over the past couple of years. She recommended this book to help me guide our girls to maintain a healthy perspective on nutrition and good eating habits while still pursuing my own goals, if very subtly.

The author first explains that a parent's responsibilty is to present healthy foods, and that a child's responsibilty is to decide how much to eat of it. She then goes on to stress the importance of patience as well as a willingness to allow a child to reject a food many times before they will accept it.

The book continues with discussion and advice about children's eating habits and behaviors at all stages of growth from infant to teenager. It's a refreshing look at how children change, mature and really learn about nutritious eating. It's also a little intimidating to discover how much our own behaviors and attitudes shape them.

I have to admit that I only skimmed the parts of the book that do not or no longer pertain to our family situation. While I looked at the information regarding feeding infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with some warm memories, I do not plan to go back to that situation (at least not until I become a grandmother!)

And I consider us fortunate not to have overly picky or problem eaters in our family. I may be able to take some of the credit for this, but probably not much. I am most proud of our habit of having a family dinner together every night (with few exceptions). We started that practice before our girls were even born and I hope they come to appreciate just how important this meal was to us.

Overall, I found this to be a very worthwhile read. It's informative, encouraging, and shows how consistency and patience goes a long way. I was also impressed with the non-food related advice about being less judgmental and critical of our children. I am sure that I need to work on this myself. I recommend this for parents of children of any age. Even parents of teenagers can learn something new. I know I did.

interesting quotes:

"If a child is exposed to the same foods over and over he will get to the point where he tastes, then likes the food. But you can't rush it. Only his own time and experience will make neophobia go away. You can help only by continuing to cook a variety of food, by eating and enjoying your own food, and by leaving him alone to work it out with food in his own way." (p. 24)

"A study on feeding larger groups of children shows the same three types of eaters: The enthusiastic, the steady accumulator, and the late bloomer." (p. 81)

"If I had to tell you to do ONE THING to enhance your child's eating behavior and nutritional status, that oe thing would be having family meals. Having the structure and reliability of family meals is essential to your child's nutritional and emotional health." (p. 94)

"Stress levels in both parents and children are the highest during adolescence. Marital satisfaction, which starts to dip with the birth of the first child, declines even further during adolescence, although it doesn't dip as far if parents feel they are being generally successful with their child. It isn't until the nest empties out that marital satisfaction again improves." (p. 237)

"During the teen years, you continue to teach and guide your child, building on the foundation of instruction and interaction that has gone before. The way you treat your child is the most powerful part of the instruction, as it has been at all previous times. Your attitude of respect and interest and your willingness to play a supportive, rather than a controlling role, will have an enormous impact on the way you and your child fell about each other." (pp. 245-246)
Profile Image for Sheryl.
307 reviews3 followers
March 14, 2015
This might be the best book on parenting I've read so far. I have had a lot of anxiety around Sasha's food consumption - no doubt based on my own ambivalence around food issues, but nevertheless it has been stressful. Is she eating enough? Is she eating enough of the right things? What do I do when she doesn't want to eat?

Satter's premise is simple. As a parent, it is my job to determine what Sasha eats, and her job to decide how much of it to eat. When put that way it seems so simple, but the ramifications in our family have been staggering. It has enabled me to completely let go of feeling stressed out at meal times. It is easy to say "you don't have to eat that if you don't want." And it has definitely reduced the "control" oriented fights around food. Satter is realistic too - she says that having family dinners is probably the best thing you can do, and that they should have carbs, protein, and vegetables. But then she says that if the only way to do that is with a frozen pizza, then do it with a frozen pizza. She also suggests that as your child is learning to try new foods or doesn't like what's being served that you should be sure that there are carbs at dinner for them to fill up on. She has other helpful tactics for snacks, kids who don't want to eat at the table, etc. She is completely against feeding kids a separate meal than adults, which I believe in too, but has some ideas on how to make that palatable (pun intended) for everyone. For example - every meal should have at least one item on the plate the kid likes. Hence our dinner the other night of spinach lasagna and strawberries.

The book starts with newborn feeding and goes through adolescence, so there are parts of the book I didn't find relevant, but I did like that the themes she suggested would be relevant over the long haul - that the tactics might change but the strategy would be consistent. There were also sections devoted to more serious eating disorders than a picky toddler, but while irrelevant to me, was still good to see her method applied in different ways.

I've been recommending this nonstop to parents of young kids. A classic in our family's library for sure.
Profile Image for Chloe (Always Booked).
1,837 reviews122 followers
June 13, 2019
This book has a lot of great information and cites a lot of very interesting research. It has chapters on each age group (baby, toddler, preschoolers, school age and teenager) as well as information for preventing and dealing with obesity, eating disorders, and kids with special needs. I will definitely reference back to this book.
My only complaint is that Ellyn Satter comes off a little arrogant at times. Additionally, there’s a lot of repetition from “Child of Mine” but that’s nice for anyone who picks this up first.
Profile Image for Jan.
108 reviews
May 30, 2009
I really did learn a lot about feeding your children and how to present meal times. The main message is that parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented. Children are responsible for how and even whether they eat.
Profile Image for Kjersti.
335 reviews
November 6, 2021
I have been following this author for years now and have read her other (newer) book. I found this one to be more comprehensive and I really liked it. She promotes division of responsibility in eating: parents decide what to serve and when. Children decide how much they want to eat.

She talks a lot about how we need to offer a variety of foods and trust our children to eat what they need. She also talks about how parents can help or unintentionally hurt this process. She takes it very seriously and is very detailed and I love her approach.

I considered giving 4 stars because it is a bit dated with some of the language (published in the 80’s). But the content is still great and I knew it was dated so was able to easily disregard it. I read this on my phone so some of the format was difficult - like the tables of lists - but not the author’s fault. So 5 stars it is :)
145 reviews3 followers
August 24, 2008
I have a picky eater. I think he may be pickier than the children in How to Get Your Kids to Eat... But Not Too Much by Ellyn Satter. I don't know if her advice really speaks to my problem.

Basically, Satter's premise comes down to this: "It's my job to give him healthy meals and snacks but it's his job to eat it." It sounds simple enough and maybe by reading this book I've decided that my son's eating really isn't so much of a problem. I'm learning to let him do his thing and since I've done that he's started putting different foods in his diet and he's starting to eat a bit more. It's making meal times less stressful so I'll give it that.

The other thing I took out of this book is scheduled snack times. Maybe he's just not hungry when he comes to the table. I'm trying to work snacks into a schedule but I don't want to be too quick to do so. I'd rather he not notice that there seems to be something changing.

I'm hoping that the book has helped me to be a better parent with food. I know it's an issue for me and I don't want it to be an issue for my boys too.
Profile Image for Angie.
370 reviews
March 22, 2019
Extremely thorough, convincing, and helpful. My pediatrician recommended this for help with a picky eater, but I gained far more than just tips for that situation. It covers the complete foundation of proper family nutrition, and I’m excited to adopt some new strategies around here. In particular, the proper division of responsibilities: the parent decides what is offered and when. The child decides whether to eat and how much to eat out of what is offered. It has been SO freeing to stop pressuring my daughter at the dinner table. If she only eats the rice and a roll, and doesn’t touch the asparagus or chicken, Ellen Satter, who is both a nutritionist and a therapist, says that’s perfectly fine. I can just enjoy my dinner and trust that she’ll eventually branch out when she’s ready.
Profile Image for Nephi.
43 reviews
January 2, 2017
Good advice, more than just food.

This book completely changed my approach to feeding my daughter. We were starting to struggle at dinner to get her to eat, and it was filling to be a fun and satisfying time for anyone. This book helped me realize that I was trying to hard and that cause be more harm than good, given my child is healthy and growing.
Profile Image for Gita.
32 reviews2 followers
September 25, 2018
This book has helped me in the midst of my feeding battle with my second child (which after this book I know it's not a battle worth picking) The gist is: Don't pressurize them to eat nor praise them when they do, give 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, don't faff about the amount of food they eat, we're only responsible for WHAT food and WHEN to serve.
Profile Image for Bridget.
1,193 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2019
To be honest, I didn't read the entire book. I read what was applicable to my current child's age. Having said that, the book has one main piece of advice (for what I read of it): parents choose what to offer & child chooses how much. I've started doing this, and it is kind of hard. However, others have done it before me & it's been fine. A decent read.
9 reviews
July 28, 2017
Life changing

This isn't just a book about how and what to feed kids - it's a book about parenting. It helped me stop stressing and not worry so much about a complicated job. The author's easy-going attitude and conviction that everything will turn out okay was encouraging.
Profile Image for Heather.
1,245 reviews52 followers
March 14, 2022
Through many chapters that walk the reader through eating at each developmental stage, plus special chapters on particular eating issues, Satter emphasizes that parents are responsible for the what and when of eating, while children are responsible for whether and how much.

It's a very simple thing, but it is scary how many things can go wrong with a growing human being's eating if the feeding relationship with the parents or the family's emotional dynamics aren't good.

Overall, the message is positive. The author's tone is firm, but kind, and unlike with some parenting books, I didn't feel judged reading it!

My daughter is almost two, and since she hadn't been sleeping well again, I'd started to fall into the trap of trying to get tons of bedtime snacks into her in an attempt to get her to sleep through the night to a reasonable wake-up time. However, I realized that although a bedtime snack is okay, I could just... stop giving her food when she started to slow down and I wouldn't have to keep prolonging bedtime that way. The snacks didn't fix her sleep anyway; she just needed her bedtime adjusted since she is getting older.

The book also helped me feel more compassionate toward myself thinking back to my massive anxiety around feeding my daughter as she transitioned to solid foods. I worried a lot about whether she was getting the right nutrition, whether I was feeding her often enough and giving her healthy enough things, etc. No. Just chill. She was just fine and she already eats way better than I did as a kid!

Speaking of that, the book also gave me a lot of insight into why I was such a picky eater when I was little. I really struggled to try new things until I was a teenager and got into more varied social situations. After reading this and knowing my parents, I think they probably just gave up if it seemed like I didn't like something. They were loving parents, but they didn't understand that it was okay to put something in front of a kid multiple times--in fact, that it was a necessary process in getting them to try something without pressure.

I have fortunately never had to deal with an eating disorder, but the section on that rang true for what I've heard among acquaintances... I once knew a woman who had bulimia. She told me that her parents were always angry around the dinner table, so there was a lot of intense emotion surrounding eating for her. I felt so sad for her. It is such a horrible thing to deal with.

The main thing about this 1987 book that raised an eyebrow for me was the emphasis on drinking milk. That part seemed especially dated. Not all experts agree that kids need to drink cow's milk. My daughter eats cheese, tofu, salmon, broccoli, lots of stuff that contains calcium. She takes a vitamin D supplement to cover that. My husband and I don't drink much cow's milk ourselves (or other plant-based milks, for that matter). We don't really feel like it's missing for her either and the evidence seems to agree. So take that part with a grain of salt (or a thimbleful of milk, if you will).
166 reviews
January 10, 2021
This is my second time reading this book and it was as helpful this time as the first read. Satter's philosophy on feeding kids is that the parent is responsible for providing the food and the kid is responsible for how much they eat or if they eat at all. This was revelatory when my oldest was an extremely picky toddler and reading it again gave me the confidence to keep doing what we're doing. He's still picky but less so and we don't argue about food the way that I think we would if we didn't follow Satter's model.
Profile Image for Jessie C.
12 reviews
April 16, 2018
Great read for professionals and parents, though I think some information may be dated and could benefit from a update with newer studies. Still great choice for any parent, especially with any feeding issues.
47 reviews18 followers
May 11, 2020
Excellent book for parents and anyone who works with children. The author is a Registered Dietitian and a Social Worker and weaves in how to have healthy family relationships with helping kids of different ages and different life situations to eat successfully.
Profile Image for Hualei.
61 reviews1 follower
April 30, 2019
Separation of responsibilities. Simple as that and does the charm.
Profile Image for Ashley  Brooks.
256 reviews16 followers
December 7, 2015
Ellyn Satter gives brilliant, no-nonsense advice on feeding your child from infancy all the way to the teenage years. Her suggestions are simple and easy to understand. Satter gives a heaping dose of common sense wisdom and basic parenting advice that can apply to just about any tough eating situation.

I really wanted to give this book 5 stars, but I had to leave one off for the following reasons:

1. It was written before I was born. Though most of the advice stands the test of time, it would be nice if the book was updated with more recent nutrition guidelines, statistics, and case studies.

2. The first third of the book could've used a good developmental edit. There's lots of repetitious information and tangents that had me skimming to get to the next section over and over again. I appreciated that Satter included the WHY behind her recommendations, but it could have been condensed by quite a bit.
19 reviews
May 12, 2011
I was just planning on reading the section about Elijah's age, but got intrigued by a lot of her parenting philosophies and ended up reading the entire thing. I love her idea that it is up to the parent to decide when and what the child will eat, and it is up to the child to determine how much and whether they will eat. You provide structure and give them choices within it. It was definitely not a solve-all, but she talked about applying that same parenting style outside of just eating and I found it to be insightful. My only complaint - she says to always offer something like bread at each meal that you know your child will eat. NO WAY am I offering bread at each meal, that sounds like awful parenting to me. But other than that I totally loved this book and would recommend it to anyone with children!
Profile Image for Megan.
88 reviews9 followers
January 28, 2009
This book offered straight forward advice on how to establish healthy eating habits with kids. Oh, drat, how do you do that for your kids when your own relationship with food is so out of whack? It was straight down the center about food - giving the rule that parents are responsible for providing healthy food, and kids are responsible for what and how much they will eat. I kept thinking about "Fat Girl" whenever the author mentioned how pushing a diet on kids will cause them to crave food and overeat when they get the chance.
Profile Image for Kristylemmon.
82 reviews9 followers
March 21, 2009
I love this woman's advice because it makes sense and is really simple. Also she has lifted the guilt I have felt for so long about my daughter's food preferences (or lack thereof). It's not a book you can read cover to cover because not all chapters apply to your situation. But each section is full of good info and strategies. I have not made Abby a separate dinner for 6 weeks now. And the other day she licked a piece of chicken. These may sound like small changes but in our house they are revolutionary!
Profile Image for Nadine.
325 reviews36 followers
March 10, 2009
This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a dietician and said that pediatric dieticians consider this book to be their bible. I can see why. It focuses more on the parents' behavior and the parent/child relationship than nutrition, so if you're looking for nutrition information I'd look elsewhere. But if you're looking for ways to improve your child's relationship with food, this book is just fabulous. I checked it out from the library but I actually think I'm going to buy my own copy. Highly recommended.
1 review
Want to read
April 24, 2014

This book provides wonderful insight into children and their behaviors..wonderful information regarding the developmental stages of children, their attitudes, and why they approach food the way they do at different ages. Every parent should pick it up, find the chapter that applies to you and read. I especially enjoy the chapter on Toddlers - are they jerking you around at the table? However there is much more practical information than just your child's eating habits.
I also recommend Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense.

Profile Image for Mariah.
135 reviews2 followers
June 15, 2009
I'm reading this for my maternal and child nutrition class and really enjoying it, actually. it isn't rocket science, but explains how withholding, excessively controlling, or forcing food on kids always does the opposite of what you intend. I checked this out from the library but think I'll actually buy a copy of it to have around whenever kids happen. It opened my eyes to one of the most important parts about raising a child and how to try and do it well.
Profile Image for Kristina Hoerner.
716 reviews7 followers
March 16, 2014
Though this book is older (1992), it did have helpful pointers. The biggest is that parents are responsible for the food that comes into the house but it is up the the kid if they will eat and what they choose to eat of what is offered. I have been so frustrated with Ella's limited palate but I have not been consistent enough in offering better choices and healthier eating arrangements. I also really need to clean up my eating choices to set a better example.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
6 reviews
February 6, 2009
My sister is a nutritionist/dietician who has worked for the USDA for several years. When I was pregnant with my first, she gave me this book. The author is widely respected in the nutrition community. She has great advice and information for children of all ages. I love her common sense approach. Now if I could just get myself to stop being lazy and put her words into action...
Displaying 1 - 30 of 65 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.