by Stacey London-Oshkello, MS, RD, CD, LD
As parents, we want to give our children optimum nutrition, and yet may be confused by misleading information and frustrated by the balancing act of parenting. Life can be so busy that food preparation gets left behind. When we do prepare food, we may have picky eaters who won’t even try what we have spent precious time preparing. Setting up a healthy feeding relationship with our children is of primary importance when considering what and how to feed them.
Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LSCW, BCD, has over 30 years of experience and research in helping parents develop a healthy feeding relationship with their children. She has coined the term ‘the division of responsibility’ in order to help avoid conflicts over eating, and encourage children to listen to their intrinsic messages of hunger, satiation, and physical needs. The division of responsibility clearly divides the parent’s and child’s roles in feeding. Things can get confusing and ugly if parent and child start messing with the other’s responsibility. The responsibilities are broken down as follows: the parent is responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner in which it is presented; the child is responsible for how much he/she eats, whether he/she eats, and how his/her body turns out. Please see the table below for the detailed responsibilities of the parent, as presenting food to our children comes with a lot of specific roles. It is very important that we feed our children nourishing food regularly and sit down at the table with them and model healthy eating. I encourage parents to make one meal for the whole family and integrate family meals. Family meals combined with the division of responsibility can help avoid picky eaters, childhood obesity, and control issues around food.
As parents, it is our job to provide food regularly in a nurturing environment, and it is the child’s job to decide how much they will eat at each meal/snack. It takes children 15 times to get familiar with a new food, so keep presenting nourishing foods. Things that increase familiarity are seeing, touching, and tasting the food. Just having the food on your child’s plate will help them to become familiar with that food.
As a Registered Dietitian, I recommend that parents provide meals that include a source of protein, a source of whole carbohydrate, a source of fat, and a vegetable and/or fruit. This allows variety in the meal that the child can choose from, and provides a meal that will help to balance blood sugar, be satisfying, and provide vitamins and minerals to nourish the body. Children become familiar with the foods they eat most often. If they eat macaroni and cheese and hot dogs all the time and are never presented with other foods, then they will not learn to eat new foods. Present healthy foods to your children every 2-3 hours, and let them decide how much of a food they will eat. Do this even if you are concerned about your child’s weight. Offering healthy food every 2-3 hours will help their weight stabilize, if you don’t add other food or caloric beverages in between meals and snacks. Feeding them every 2-3 hours with nutritious snacks/meals can help to make sure they are meeting their nutritional needs. A healthy snack consists of protein combined with fruit, vegetable, or whole grains. Present food in a healthy manner, implement family meals (where everyone eats together without any distractions), and trust that your children will get what they need as long as we are following the division of responsibility.
|Parents are responsible for what is presented to eat and the manner it is presented:||Parent is NOT responsible for :|
|Selecting and buying food||How much the child eats|
|Making and presenting meals||Whether the child eats|
|Regulating timing of meals and snacks||How his/her body turns out|
|Presenting food in a form a child can handle|
|Allowing eating methods a child can master|
|Making family mealtimes pleasant|
|Helping the child to participate in family meals|
|Helping the child to attend to his/her eating|
|Maintaining standards of behavior at the table|
Resource: How to get your Kid to Eat… But Not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter
Stacey Oshkello is a Registered Dietician at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic at (802) 722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT, www.sojourns.org and find us on facebook.