Has anyone out there heard of Ellyn Satter? No? Well, today is your lucky day because I am going to introduce you…theoretically of course. You could say that Ellyn Satter is my dietitian hero. I mean, there are other dietitians out there who are pretty cool, but Ellyn Satter is kind of a genius when it comes to food and kids (she has some pretty brilliant theories for adults too). You can learn all about her theories and ideas here but today I want to focus on the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
The Division of Responsibility basically breaks down feeding into what the parent or adult is responsible for and what the infant/child/adolescent is responsible for. So let’s see how the responsibilities divide, in hopes that it might just simplify your mealtimes (and life in general).Parents: DECIDE the WHAT, the WHERE and the WHEN of eating.
WHAT: As a parent, it is your job to choose what your child eats (assuming they’re not a teenager… then you have a little less say in their diet). Meaning, you get a say in whether their diet is healthy or not because it is based on what you provide. When your sprout is an infant you decide between breast milk or formula; you plan the meals for your toddlers; you purchase what snacks will be available in the house for older kids. If you want your children to eat healthy, it is pretty important for you to provide healthy foods. If the available snack options are chips and cookies, you can’t complain that your little one doesn’t pick to snack on fruits and veggies (not to pick on chips and cookies…everything has its place…)! It is important to feed your sprout developmentally appropriate foods (like not feeding a 9 month old steak), but try to avoid catering to their current likes and dislikes. You’re a parent, not a short order cook (if you want that kind of work, get a job at a diner… it pays more ;)!
WHERE: Where your child eats is actually pretty important and (lucky you!) you get to choose (particularly with younger children). Do you eat as a family at the dinner table? Do you eat on the couch in front of the television? Is snack time on the floor of the kitchen? (I would be lying if I told you we’ve never had snack time on the floor before… it was one of those days…). An important aspect of establishing healthy eating is establishing good associations with food. Good associations with food are encouraged when meal and snack times also help build family relationships and bonds. Focus on making meals a family event and a pleasant experience for your little ones!
WHEN: As infants, our sprouts pretty much dictate when they want to eat, which is exactly as it should be. As they get older, however, you get a little more say in when your child eats. When solid foods are introduced, it is important to establish a routine eating schedule with regular meals and snack times. Little ones should eat 3 meals and 1-2 snacks a day, depending on their current appetite (which can vary greatly so pay attention to cues). Regular eating schedules not only provide structure, which your little ones (and adults) will appreciate, but they also encourage children to be hungry when it’s time to eat. Healthy appetites lead to increased food acceptance and healthier eating. Who knew a schedule could be so beneficial right?Sprouts: DECIDE IF they want to eat and HOW MUCH they want to eat.
IF: Remember last post when we talked about food jags? Remember how one of the tips was to not force your child to eat? Division of Responsibility states that you provide the food then let your child choose if they want to eat it. Sound crazy? I promise it’s not. Letting your child choose prevents arguments, tension and frustration on your part and gives your little one some autonomy with eating. They may not have a say in what they are served but let them have a say in what they eat. REMEMBER though, IF they choose not to eat what you serve, that certainly doesn’t mean they get to choose another snack when they are hungry 10 minutes later. They still have to wait for the next meal/snack time before eating again (darn those consequences).
HOW MUCH: Not only does your child get to decide IF they want to eat, but they get to decide HOW MUCH of each food they eat. Again, no forcing your child to eat. As you can see in my pic up there, G wasn’t really feeling the peas at lunch. But that’s alright! I know he’s eaten peas before and I’m confident he will eat them again, no stressing over the peas for me. Trust your children to learn to listen to their own little bodies and control their own little appetites. They’ll catch on and so will you!
I hope you’ll try out the Division of Responsibility. With a little practice it can make your mealtimes less of a fight and more of a feast. If you have any questions on more specific eating issues you don’t think would fit within these guidelines, be sure to comment so we can help you out! Happy eating!