Mealtimes can be stressful for parents and children if feeding is not going well. As parents we want our children to grow into healthy, happy adults. Creating an enjoyable mealtime experience for you and your family is an important step in supporting your child’s development and growth into adulthood. Whether your child is two or twelve, it is never too late or too early to learn how to serve and enjoy meals in a way that provides the opportunity for variety and growth.
Whether you feel your child eats too much or eats too little I will provide you with the tools and support you need to help your child eat and grow in a way that is right for them. Part of this is learning how to trust in your child’s feeding.
My advice and support is based on Dietitian Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility. The Division of Responsibility is about knowing where the boundaries of eating are:
The parent is responsible for deciding when and where meals are served and the food that is served.
The child is responsible for choosing how much to eat and whether to eat.
Once the food is served, the parent’s responsibility ends and the child takes over for themselves.
I can support you and your family if you have found yourself:
- Encouraging your child to eat more
- Restricting the amount that your child eats
- Bribing your child with dessert
Negotiating how many mouthfuls is enough
- Dreading mealtimes
- Resigned to serving the same food at every meal
- Battling with your child about food.
All of these can be turned around into more positive experiences for both you and your child.
When I had my first child, AN, I was determined that food would not become a big issue. I knew that children’s tastes change as they grow, and I made the conscious choice that there wouldn't be battles over food. By the time AN was two years old, there were a lot of foods that he didn't eat but I thought that even if he didn’t like a particular food now, surely he would grow into liking it. But I wasn't prepared to make different meals to satisfy everyone in the family…
Peanut Butter Sandwiches
With all my good intentions, somehow I ended up serving peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.
How did I get to that point? How does a qualified Dietitian end up serving peanut butter sandwiches to their 2-year-old son at dinner time? The answer is one that will sound familiar to many… because I had given him the easy out. AN’s response to ANY food was “I don’t like it” even when he had previously eaten it with gusto. Peanut butter sandwiches were familiar and easy.
My next strategy was also typical in many households of ‘this is dinner if you don’t like it, next meal is breakfast’. So much for not making food a battle huh? AN called my bluff and he became accustomed to waiting until breakfast. Food had become a battle of wills and one that no one was winning.
We settled into an uncomfortable compromise where there was usually something AN would eat, even if it was only a handful of pasta. He wasn’t made to eat everything on his plate but there was no second helping until he did, which very rarely happened. AN experienced a lot of hungry evenings. This continued until AN had just turned seven.
Time for change
I was sick of dreading dinner and had enough of watching AN feel dread about coming to the table. I was watching him hate food and we were both hating meal times. They weren’t the pleasant family times I had always imagined. My daughter, AK, had just turned three and while she ate most things, she was beginning to be more selective in her foods choices too. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes twice. It was time for some action.
I scoured my textbooks and readings from university. I couldn’t find too much more than the usual: serve a variety of foods, present foods in creative ways and encourage bites. I’d done that; it didn’t serve us. Through my professional networks I began hearing about Dietitian and Therapist Ellyn Satter. Her message was very different.
And it just felt right.
My personal learning began. I read books, I absorbed all the information I could and implemented The Division of Responsibility into feeding my family.
In 2015 I joined Ellyn Satter for her training workshop in Sydney so that I could bring this way of feeding to my clients. I could see that this was a much more parent and child friendly way of feeding. In NZ there is a growing community of dietitians that follow this way of feeding. The Division of Responsibility is more widely used among American and Australian dietitians.
In my family it has made our mealtimes a completely different experience. We talk, we laugh, we eat. I can relax. Once the food is on the table I have done my job. Then the rest is up to the kids.
Neither child eats everything, but then again many of us adults don’t either. As a parent, I am confident that they are eating as much as they need, they are more comfortable trying new things and they feel positive about food and meals. I am confident that they will grow into adults who can manage their own food choices in a way that looks after both their physical and emotional needs.
If you follow Food Habits on Facebook, you’ll see some of our meal time experiences.
Meal times don’t have to be a chore. Book now to start enjoying meal times again.