Family mealtimes can be stressful. It’s a time where we are often tired and unwinding for the day. Parents of fussy or picky eaters are often well versed in the Mealtime Tango. Parents offering, child declining, child diverting, parents getting stressed, child leaving the table without having eaten, parents feeling they need to offer something else, worried about nutrients and growth. In this pattern, we can see mealtime stress increasing both throughout the meal and from day-to-day. We can also see a child’s variety of food not expanding in the same way that their siblings or peers may have, and potentially even decreasing.
The Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility is here to help.
Developed by Ellyn Satter, Dietitian & Family Therapist, The Division of Responsibility clearly outlines the roles of both the parent and the child in the feeding relationship.
The Parents Role is to decide:
- What Food to Serve
- When to Serve it
- Where to Serve it
The Child’s Role is to decide:
- If they would like to eat the food
- How much they will eat
The Division of Responsibility highlights the need for parents to provide structure around mealtimes. Many children with thrive with known & familiar structure and boundaries in various areas of their lives. In relation to feeding, one element of this is regular meal and snack times and reducing the pattern of grazing. This allows a child to feel the internal cues of hunger and fullness and respond appropriately (by eating) at allocated mealtimes. It encourages the presentation of one family meal, served buffet style is possible, to allow exposure to new foods without pressure. This also encourages parents to eat with their child and to role model eating. This can have a significant impact on a child’s curiosity and interest in trying a food.
It is important to also acknowledge the child’s role in the feeding relationship. It is up to the child what foods they choose to serve on their plate and how much. It is also not a requirement that they finish all the food they put on their plate. As a part of buffet style family meals, children should have access to at least one preferred or “safe” food. Ellyn Satter’s “The Cook’s Rules” refers to this as: “There will always be bread, and you may eat as much of it as you want”. This can be applied to any number of preferred foods.
At the framework’s core is the trust in a child and their hunger and fullness cues that they know how much they need to eat or drink. This allows children the space to explore and develop their own interest in food and eating and create lifelong intuitive eaters, in tune with their own hunger and fullness cues. This means that a parent will not prompt (“one more bite”) nor reward for eating food. Food rewards such as dessert for eating dinner are discouraged and rather all foods should be seen as neutral. Pressure, both positively and negatively geared, can have a detrimental impact on a child’s willingness to participate in mealtimes and expand their food variety.
The Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility is simple in principle, however, the complexities of family life and individual needs can make the application a little more difficult. An assessment by one of our paediatric dietitians can help you to identify and overcome these barriers to assist with reducing the mealtime stressed experienced in your family. You can also read more about the Division of Responsibility here: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/
If you or someone you know could benefit from these services, please contact us today on 0499 008 451 or visit the Contact Us page.