Prev Next
On Second Helpings, Satter & Upping the Dinner Ante

On Second Helpings, Satter & Upping the Dinner Ante

By Amalah

Hello Amy!

I started reading your blog when I was pregnant with my oldest (he is almost three). I wouldn’t have made it through pregnancy and early motherhood with as much sanity intact so thank you! Also, I love you and your boys as much as I could possible love a person I’ve never met.

Fangirl moment over. As for my question…

I started doing the Satter Method with my oldest at your recommendation a month or two ago. I read most of the book, but I have four month old so my brain is like scrambled eggs.

I love her approach to eating and it is absolutely working for us, or I should say we have made a lot of progress, but I have a few questions.

I put all of the food groups on my son’s plate. He almost always goes straight for the carbs/fruits first, and generally asks for more before eating any veggies.

She talks so much about trusting your toddler to know what they need. Do you give second helpings of anything before expecting them to eat everything on the plate?

What do you do if you are a few weeks in of eating only carbs or fruit at meals with no veggie or meat eating in sight? (I do sneak veggies in wherever I can, and he drinks a spinach smoothie daily, but I want him to know he’s eating veggies and enjoy it.)

He used to eat everything. Asparagus! Avocado! Squash! Now, not so much.



A Word About Second Helpings

So regarding second helpings of fun/easy food before eating the more challenging ones: Nope, not in my house.

Now, I am totally not sure if this approach is 100% Satter Method Approved, as it does kinda go against trusting your child to regulate his or her own food/nutrition intake, and not being a stickler for “clean plates.” But it’s a rule I enforce more so my kids don’t drive me absolutely bonkerpants at the table. So I win. Sorry, boys.

Your son IS getting vegetables (that he doesn’t know about), so nutritionally, he’s probably doing just fine. But like you said, it’s also important that he actually be aware that he’s eating vegetables, is getting a somewhat reasonable amount of protein and ALSO, generally being open and okay with trying and eating non-preferred foods.

From a portion control angle, I am in total agreement with Satter that an emphasis on eating every bite of food on your plate (especially when it’s an adult who determined how much food to put there in the first place), is counter-intuitive and not the best approach to establishing good long-term eating habits. But that’s TECHNICALLY not what you’re asking of your son, because he’s requesting for more food and indicating that he is still hungry. When one of my children does that, I typically tell them (CHEERFULLY) that they can absolutely have more rice/bread/pasta — as much as they’d like, actually! — after they eat the protein and/or vegetable they already have. I TRY to be careful to phrase it in a way that doesn’t set up a “how many bites?” bargaining maneuver, or sound like I’m demanding they eat every single bite no matter what before I’ll give them the other food. But sometimes yeah, they’ll just take one tiny bite and then stare at me, like WELL??? I then ignore them, change the subject and eat the food item I’m asking them to try, and usually after a minute or two they get that I’m not impressed with their effort and they eat some more.

Real World Confession Time, though: My almost-4-year-old will generally reject at least one thing on his plate every single night at dinner. Not breakfast, not lunch, but dinner is where he STILL consistently tries to start a power struggle for attention. And it’s completely random: Sometimes it’s the vegetable, sometimes he’ll happily dig into a salad but reject the protein. Last night he refused to eat pasta. P-A-S-T-A. Any attempt to get him to eat that item will escalate the situation into a Big Huge Tantrum Suck of Attention Seeking.  So with him, I occasionally will make exceptions on second helpings just out of a refusal to give the rejection any specific attention, since that’s what he wants. If he’s rejecting EVERYTHING, however, he goes hungry and I don’t even feel at all guilty about it. BUT, he’s ignoring the green beans but wants more chicken. I am fine with more chicken. I’m a bigger stickler on the carbs, though, which leads us to the second part of your question.

Change Up the Dinner Routine

If your child is generally responding well to the Satter Method but still mostly subsisting on fruit and carbs, it’s time to up the ante. Start making meals that either don’t necessarily include those things (I mean, I’m sure he’s getting plenty of fruit and carbs during the day so skipping them at dinner is not a big deal), or prepare them in a way that doesn’t allow your child to eat them completely separately. If your son is capable of using a spoon and fork, congratulations: he’s ready for Next Level Plating.

I don’t typically include fruit in our main meals, unless it’s part of a salad, for example, and yeah kids, there’s some kind of dressing/seasoning involved that I’m not wiping off. The only time we see bread at the table is if it’s part of a sandwich or burger, and yeah kids, these are GROWN UP sandwiches and burgers, with STUFF ON THEM THAT IS NOT JUST CHEESE AND KETCHUP. Most of the time our carbs are grains like quinoa, freekah or barley, which are GREAT for mixing with all kinds of wonderful vegetables and proteins that can’t be easily avoided. We don’t let anyone eat with their fingers (manners!) so it’s pretty much impossible for them to pick around all the veggies in order to just eat those tiny little grains. Whole wheat cous cous, orzo and brown rice work well too — my kids never see those arrive “plain” at the table anymore, and with time became agreeable to the fact that their pasta is always going to have “green stuff” in it and their rice comes mixed up with sauce and meat. Once your child is old enough to eat with a fork and spoon, ditch the divided kiddie plates of separate finger foods. Make it a little more challenging for them to reject food groups wholesale, and instead learn to tolerate different textures and flavors mixed together.

Published May 15, 2015. Last updated January 31, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • trish

    May 15, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    My sneaking veggie-pushing hack is that I have cut-up cold veggies like carrot sticks, snap peas and red/yellow peppers on the table while I’m making dinner. Inevitably they are butting me for snacks right before dinner. Then, I don’t really worry so much about whether they eat the veggies that come with dinner. 

  • z

    May 15, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    What I do is serve the carb as a second course.  We start the meal with protein and veggies, with rice or whatever completely out of sight.

    I also often make my snacks very light on carbs.  Like fruit or veggies with yogurt dip, apple and almond butter, etc.  Yes it contains some carbs, but it’s not like they’re eating mac and cheese.

  • Jeannie

    May 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    We did the “you don’t have to eat it all, but you have to try everything” approach with our son, and it worked really well for him. The pressure was off to eat ALL of something, and so he would most often be willing to eat a spoonful of something or other to get more of what he liked better. But .. I also tend to make “adult” food for dinner, which meant whole grain carbs if there were any, and no fruit (my kids eat a metric ton of fruit during the day at snack, so we opt out at dinner). And like Amy says, stuff that’s all mixed up together so he can’t eat anything that’s just carbs or just fruit at dinnertime.

    I should note that this method didn’t work as well with my daughter who is much more stubborn and less reasonable … so YMMV.

  • M.

    May 15, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I do mostly what Amy does, right down to the cheerful “eat what you have!” and then studiously ignoring resistance or pouting. I try not to actually saying no to seconds, but rather encourage my daughter to finish what she has, so that I don’t turn it into a power struggle because she can be stubborn. One specific tactic I use from time to time is when we’re eating together, I tell her sure she can have more, but not until I’m done with my meal and can get it for her. That’s good manners anyway, and is a non-power-struggle way to refuse her request. Then I encourage her to eat what’s already on her plate, and go back to my own plate.

  • S

    May 15, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    I’m sitting at the lunch table, kids excused, as I read this. One 3-year-old walked back, “Can I have some crackers?” And I gave him back the old, “have what’s on your plate” (leftover eggs, tomatoes and Apple slices.) He asked, “Did you forget I wanted broccoli?” So I made some. It’s in the micro right now. So here’s the things: 1. You guys are amazing and inspirational for making this work. My good eater turned 3.5 and it’s all over. It’s crackers and frustration. I can’t handle the whining and wasted food. 2. What to do about the broccoli thing? It’s the only veggie he likes and so if he asks, he knows I’ll spring into action and get it for him. But then he’s gotten into into his head that if he eats it, he’ll get something else. I never bartered that way! Bah. 3.5-year-olds and food. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh. (My frustration does NOT help.)

  • Sarah

    May 16, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Amalah, I’ve loved your blog posts about dinners you’ve made, there have been some great ideas (the kale sausage was tweaked with veggie sausage and is now in regular rotation, and love the cauliflower pasta dish too).  I would love love love if you had more of those as columns or blog posts!  Love to get ideas that have worked with your kids and adults. 🙂

  • Laura

    May 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I highly recommend buying a copy Satter’s “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” to keep on hand. The focus is on enjoying food together at family meal times. She encourages serving whatever food you offer family style and letting kids serve themselves. The only exception is dessert, where a single portion can be served alongside the meal. Kids get to choose whatever proportion of food they want and eat it in whatever order they want. The trick is that they can only choose from what’s on offer. So, there may be meals where you don’t offer fruit for example, but your son might still refuse the vegetables and that’s okay. The idea is that once your child is confident that he will have food he enjoys provided for him regularly, he will be open to trying more foods. There is no magic bullet though. My son was (and is) extremely picky, so we started this when he turned 3 and have made slooow but steady progress. He is 4 now and we had many meals over the past year where he would only eat the carb and a long stretch where he wouldn’t eat meat, but he is healthy and growing, the power struggles are gone, and he is slowly starting to branch out to new flavours and textures. Good luck!

  • Kat

    May 16, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    I do exactly what Amalah does – plate food the same way I do for the rest of the family, let him eat what he wants, if he asks for more of one thing I ask him to “work on what he has first, then he can have more X”. I phrase it that way so there is no bite negotiation. If he chooses not to eat anything else, that’s okay. If he skipped the protein, breakfast the following morning is full of protein (just to make me feel better 🙂 if he skipped the veggie, he gets scrambled eggs with tiny chopped peppers (too small to pick out with his fork) the next morning. Basically, whatever he skips during a meal is the primary ingredient for the next meal/snack. By the time we get to that next opportunity to eat, he’s too hungry to complain, and I don’t stress during meals because of it.

  • Caroline

    May 17, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    ”When you have eaten at least some of everything that is on your plate, and by some, I mean at least 1/2 of the portion, then sure”. The end.