If you’ve ever shared a meal with a child, you likely understand the mealtime stress that can happen for both kids and caregivers. Parents don’t want to be short-order cooks, but want their kids to eat. Kids are tired of being coerced into eating foods they don’t like or having someone else tell them when they’re full. Fortunately, there’s a solution: Division of Responsibility, developed by dietitian and social worker Ellyn Satter.

In this model, parents and caregivers have three jobs:

  1. They determine what and how much food is served at meals and snacks. We want caregivers to be considerate of the family’s preferences, having a familiar preferred food served at each meal, like bread or other grain. But by no means do the parents need to cater to their child’s preferences!!
  2. Parents and caregivers determine the routine. They decide where and when meals and snacks will happen. When eating out, they decide what options the child can choose from. Parents create the structure and boundaries for the child to work within.
  3. Parents decide the rules and behavior expected at meals and snacks. For example, the family must sit together until everyone is finished eating, or no second helpings until everyone has had a serving. We don’t want to require a “3-bite rule” or any expectation that overrides a child’s hunger/fullness cues or punishes them for not trying a food.

The kids also have their jobs:

  1. They choose whether or not they want to eat off of what is offered.
  2. They decide what they want to eat off of what is offered.
  3. They decide how much to eat off of what is offered.

For the neurotypical child, hunger can be a great motivator to eat at the next meal- we promise your child won’t starve if they opt to not eat dinner- they will likely eat an amazing breakfast! It is important for kids to learn what and how much food leaves them feeling satisfied, rather than building reliance on external cues, like a clean plate or parent determination.

As you use this model, it’s important to go about it in a stress-free way. We want to avoid being coercive or punitive. If your child decides not to eat, or to just eat a few bites of pasta, it’s OK! They have done their job, just as you have. Kids will quickly adapt to understand and rely upon their own preferences and hunger cues. In turn, this will support them in becoming fantastic intuitive eaters for the rest of their lives!

If you have questions, or want to learn more, reach out to us at info@harmonynutritionatl.com