How to feed: Feeding roles

  • ‘HOW’ we feed baby is as important as ‘WHAT’ foods we provide them.
  • You decide ‘WHICH’ foods baby is provided.
  • ‘WHEN and WHERE’ baby eats becomes your decision between 6 – 12 months as we establish meal patterns. 
  • It’s baby’s decision to ‘EAT or NOT’ and ‘HOW MUCH’ they eat from the food you provide. 

What are the ‘feeding roles’?

We can put practices in place now, that will help avoid fussy and problem eating

The most important point to remember in ‘HOW WE FEED’ is the feeding roles we (parent/carer) and baby are each in charge of. We need to stick to our own role and let baby be in charge of theirs.

It’s important to get these habits now… but will be even more important to have these roles sorted when baby moves into toddler and childhood, when their food rejection and ‘fussiness’ increase.conversation between parent and child about feeding roles - Parent - I say what to feed, when to feed and how much to serve. Baby - and I’ll eat what I want or need...nothing more, 
nothing less. Problems start when these roles are reversed.

Sticking to our own ‘feeding roles’ will make meals and eating more enjoyable for all

Parents decide…
Which foods to provide.
When and where food is served (mealtimes)*.

*Between 6 and 12 months ‘WHEN and WHERE’ food is provided moves from the baby to parent’s decision as we start having structured mealtimes.

Our baby decides…
Whether they will eat the food provided or not.
How much they will eat from food served.
Which foods to eat from food served.

Why ‘feeding roles’ are important

HOW’ we feed children is just as important as ‘WHAT’ we feed in shaping our baby’s lifelong eating patterns, food likes/dislikes and behaviour. ‘How we feed’ is also really important in overcoming ‘fussy eating’ stress and mealtime battles.

If we don’t stick to our own feeding roles the results are…

Short term
More stress at meals (for you and them).
Increasing baby’s fussy eating behaviours.

Long term
Losing the ability to know when they are full.
Increasing the likelihood of being overweight.
Eating less variety of food.
Eating a less nutritious diet.

babies feeding themselves

If we mix up the ‘feeding roles’, i.e. they start deciding what is served and when meals are provided or we try and control how much they eat, we can run into trouble. They know how much food they need. They’re great at reading their own inner hunger and fullness signs. We just need to trust them!

‘Parents and carers provide food and then our baby decides to eat or not’

Your feeding roles

You decide WHAT your baby eats.
You are (and always have been) in charge of WHICH foods to provide, and therefore the nutrition provided. You are the person who understands nutrition the best. If we only provide our baby accepted foods, we know they’ll eat, then they are choosing the menu.image of three different babies feeding themselves

If our infants and children decide the menu, their diet is unlikely to increase in variety. Foods will become limited in texture and flavour as they move towards less challenging, easier to chew foods. Our infants and children are the least qualified to be choosing the menu!

We need to offer foods they don’t eat straight away alongside more easily accepted foods. Over time they will be more likely to eat them. Children need to learn to eat what adults eat. For more information visit Increasing meals and food variety.

The WHEN and WHERE of feeding refers to us deciding when meals are served. Before babies start solid food, we feed them when they demand it. However, when baby starts solid food, they are moving to structured meals and eating family food. When and where baby eats starts becoming your decision. Breastmilk continues to be provided when baby demands it. 

Children need to learn to eat what adults eat.

babies feeding themselvesParents providing meals and snacks at reliable times, allows children time to get hungry, and then to be able to leave the meal satisfied. Establishing a good mealtime routine helps children trust there is a reliable source of food. They can then decide to eat as little or as much as they like, from the foods offered at that meal.

When we let children decide when they are served food, eating will become continuous and unpredictable, as they graze over the day. This is more work for you, and they are less likely to eat at meals. Nutrition suffers and it is more difficult for them to learn about hunger and fullness.

Don’t become their servant, preparing separate foods and mealtimes at their request.

Your baby’s feeding roles

Your baby’s role is to decide whether to eat or not, how much to eat and which foods they choose, from what has been provided. 

babies being fed by parent and feeding themselves

If we try and control their eating by getting them to eat more or less, we interfere with our baby knowing their hunger and fullness signals. Our baby is born knowing how much to eat for their needs, but this can be disrupted if we try and control how much they eat.

Controlling how much they eat teaches baby to eat for reasons unrelated to their appetite

Eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied is a behaviour that we need to protect. Your baby’s role deciding whether to eat and how much to eat doesn’t change as they become a toddler, through childhood into their teenage years.

Baby thinking hang on...I control this part and forcing away spoon

Often children will eat foods they know and leave other foods which they don’t know, or find more challenging, in terms of taste (bitter/sour) and texture. This might look like they are eating bland foods, like rice or pasta and leaving their vegetables and meat.

It is very common for parents to pressure children to eat the foods they are rejecting. If we place pressure on certain foods, in the short term they might eat it and we feel better, but in the long term, they won’t like it or eat it. 

Children need to learn to like foods on their own terms, without any pressure from you. 

After food is served, your only job is to provide some assistance with eating if they need help.  We need to then watch very closely for the signs and signals that they want food, or that they’ve had enough. Infants can’t talk at this age, but they will give you clear signs when they are hungry or full.


Not everyone finds it easy to trust their babies tummy

Worrying that they need to eat more or eat less is really common amongst parents. We can look at one particular meal or their eating over a day and become worried they’re not doing what they should be.

Trusting they will get what they need over time can take courage, but it is important. Thinking about their intake over a longer period and monitoring their growth chart can help ease our worry.

...I adopted all the PICNIC feeding roles advice...but sometimes I lapse into old habits and add some pressure... but I do try to 
remain consistent with the no pressure advice...

A child’s food intake can be very up and down. You may not notice your baby’s progress in learning their role immediately, but rest assured, they will be travelling forward slowly as they get their skills and courage up.