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Navigating the Amber Zone

Today, we wanted to share our way of thinking about what adults do at mealtimes. 

Sometimes, it can be a bit tricky to know whether saying or doing something will help or hinder your child’s eating. To help you figure this out, we want to introduce you to: The Amber Zone

This concept is a bit advanced if you are only just starting out on your journey to help your child with their ‘picky eating’. We are making the assumption that you have already understood that pressuring your child to eat is super unhelpful. If this is a new idea to you, have a read of this article. Better still, join our membership! We will take you step by step through what you need to do to improve your child’s relationship with food. 

If you are already down with the idea of pressure-free meals, read on…

The Green Zone: Never pressureful 

Green zone strategies are always responsive. This means they respect your child’s autonomy and help contribute to relaxed and positive mealtimes. They will never* make your child’s eating worse.

Examples of Green Zone strategies:

  • Answering your child’s questions about food honestly
  • Eating a new food yourself, in front of them
  • Having new foods on the table with no expectation of trying

The Red Zone: Always pressureful

Red zone strategies are never responsive. This means that they involve exerting control over your child, contributing to stressful mealtimes and a negative atmosphere. 

Examples of Red Zone strategies:

  • Telling your child to eat ‘just one more bite’
  • Insisting that your child eats their vegetables to be allowed dessert
  • Telling your child they won’t grow big and strong if they don’t eat more

The Amber Zone: Sometimes pressureful

You’ve guessed it – strategies in the Amber Zone can be responsive or not, depending on the child and the context. 

Examples of Amber Zone strategies:

  • Asking your child if they want to see how the sauce tastes
  • Telling your child that you are smelling the soup and they could too
  • Asking them which veggie on their plate makes the biggest crunch

Take a look at this graphic

Let’s imagine that the child is pretty curious about green beans and has chosen to put a couple on their plate without prompting. The parent could ask about whether they are crunchy in a way that is all about engagement rather than pressure. 

But what about if the child has refused green beans three times already – what about if the meal has been dominated by a discussion about the eating of green beans? The question about crunch could be an extremely anxiety-provoking example of mealtime pressure. 

It’s all about the child and about the context

Amber Zone strategies are not pressureful in themselves, it all depends on what else is going on and how the child feels about the food in front of them and eating in general. 

If you are struggling to see whether an Amber Zone strategy is responsive or not, ask yourself: “What is my goal here?”

If you are trying to get your child to eat, maybe rethink what you are doing. 

If you are just connecting with your child in a way that meets them where they are and respects their autonomy, it is probably fine.

Ask yourself: “How am I feeling?”

If you are stressed, anxious or angry, maybe you are using pressure without meaning to. 

If you are relaxed and feeling positive, it is probably fine.  

Ask yourself: “How is my child feeling?”

If they are worried or seem defensive, maybe they don’t feel in control. If they are tense or their behaviour is challenging, maybe you are picking up on this and your own anxiety is pushing you to use pressure.

If they are happy and relaxed, it is probably fine. 

Try experimenting with analysing the things you do at mealtimes and consider whether they are green, red or amber zone strategies. And if they are amber zone strategies, are they supporting your child?


* Ok, so ‘never’ isn’t literally true – there are some exceptions like children with extreme sensory challenges or children not yet able to eat with their family at the table.

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