Do you ever wonder why some children turn out to be picky eaters, while others willingly eat brussels sprouts and chopped liver (I was told I loved this as a kid) and roasted chickpeas? Also, why do some kids tend to overeat, while others just won’t eat enough? It’s true, some of your kids dietary preferences will be out of your control (just like other aspects of their behavior). But others can be corrected by shifts in our parenting styles. So let's delve into the parent-child feeding relationship!
You’ve probably never heard of Ellyn Satter, but she’s someone you should be grateful for. Every pediatric dietitian I’ve ever met praises her and the work she has done to promote positive mealtime experiences for families. Satter is an internationally recognized dietitian and family therapist who has authored many books about the complex dynamics of feeding children. At the core of her teachings is the concept of the Division of Responsibility in feeding:
· The parent is responsible for what, when, and where
· The child is responsible for how much and whether
Satter’s philosophy is all about trusting your child to eat the amount of food that their body needs. If your child has problems with overeating or undereating, you might be a little skeptical of this approach. But trust me, it’s proven effective over and over again for parents willing to give it time to work. And it’s the best strategy to enjoying stress-free family meals and helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food.
To help you apply the Division of Responsibility, here’s an example of how to approach a situation you might have some familiarity with:
Scenario: Your child refuses to eat anything that you serve for dinner.
· Bargain with your child to eat dinner by offering them a dessert reward.
· Make sure your child doesn’t fill up on snacks within 1-2 hours of when dinner is served.
· Offer small portions of each food group to avoid overwhelming your child.
· Remind your child that while they don’t have to eat dinner, they need to stay at the dinner table while the rest of the family enjoys their meal.
· Remind your child that there won’t be another meal or snack until the morning since it is almost bedtime.
· Encourage your child to interact with their food (i.e. playing make-believe, using dips, offering a no-thank-you bowl, etc.) without pressuring them to eat.
If the Division of Responsibility is completely new to you and your family, I beg you to have patience! Small changes to your mealtime routines can make a huge difference over time!
Remember to consult a registered dietitian or feeding therapist if you would like more guidance on feeding your child!