Need to decrease mealtime stress? Use the division of responsibility in feeding
- “Just one more bite, then you can have dessert.”
- “Here – have a cookie – please just stop whining!”
- “If you eat a good supper, then we can have a movie night”
Do any of these statements ring a bell with you?
You may find yourself using threats or rewards to get your kids to eat what you want them to, but do these tactics really work?
Today I am going to explain one of, if not, the most helpful feeding/eating tool that you will ever use as a parent. In my humble opinion, this is the best gift a parent can receive – way more important than a designer crib or wipe warmer.
Today’s post is all about Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding, or what I will now refer to as the sDOR. To tie in the name/concept of our business, the sDOR in feeding is about forming a blueprint that will guide all your future feeding/eating decisions in your house, transforming your mealtime battleground into a calm, cool and collected space, despite the challenges.
It’s going to change your life if it hasn’t already.
I hope I’ve hooked you now to read further.
What is the division of responsibility in feeding?
The sDOR in feeding provides a clear separation of roles between what you as the parent are responsible for and what your child can determine. This delineation of responsibilities has provided a great deal of relief to parents that I have worked with over my years as a clinical dietitian, and to be honest, it has provided much relief for myself and my spouse as well.
The sDOR in feeding is applicable from birth to adolescence but for this blog, I will focus on the division of roles for raising toddlers through to early adolescents which encourages the following separation of roles for parent vs. child:
Parents take leadership with:
- WHAT foods to serve
- WHEN to eat
- WHERE to eat
- HOW MUCH to eat of what is provided
- WHETHER to eat at all
Simply put, this framework believes that when you do your jobs as a parent, your children will (eventually) learn to do their jobs.
I’m intrigued… tell me more about the parents’ jobs.
Job #1 – the “WHAT”: You are responsible to choose and prepare the food.
How many of you thought that this was the section where I would dive into a tirade about offering only non-GMO, organic, unprocessed, sugar-free, perfectly balanced meals? Nope. Not going to happen.
Despite popular belief, what actually matters the most is that your children learn to like the foods that YOU and anyone else living in your house like to eat and can afford to buy.
Does nutrition matter? Yes. I whole-heartedly believe it does!
Is nutrition the “be-all-end-all” when it comes time to feeding kids. Nope. I don’t think so.
The discussion about WHAT you offer your child to eat is a personal one and one that I like to discuss during individual coaching sessions or group lectures/presentations. In requires a deep understanding of a laundry list of factors, including a family’s food values, food accessibility, finances, dietary preferences, time available to meal prep, nutritional requirements, household allergies or intolerances etc.
It’s a complex interaction between optimal nutritional health and reality. One where there is no room for shame, blame or guilt if you’re not doing it “perfectly” like the couple next door.
While I believe it is your job as the parent to decide what is served, I think that kids can have a say but their selection is still rooted in your ultimate responsibility for what is offered.
For example, instead of saying: “What do you want for dinner?”, which can easily be followed by “French fries” and a prompt “NO” from you (#startthebattle), try “Do you want salad or cooked carrots for our vegetable tonight” OR “Do you want tuna melts tonight or would you rather have spaghetti”?
The later examples demonstrate that you are deciding, but letting your child have some autonomy within that predefined boundary. Kids love that and it helps to involve them in the process which nurtures your feeding relationship instead of breeding animosity.
You can be considerate about your child’s lack of food experience or small palate diversity without catering to their every like and dislike.
Job #2 – the “WHEN”: You are responsible for providing consistent and regular mealtimes.
Kids crave structure. Determining an appropriate feeding/eating schedule is so vitally important to your job of providing the “when”.
One of the biggest barriers to children eating what parents are serving at mealtimes is a child’s lack of hunger. Most often this is because kids are snacking/grazing all day long. They are provided with some food whenever they say they are hungry or if they are upset, instead of parents pre-determining the snack and meal times and suggesting other activities instead of eating between those mealtimes.
It’s okay for our children to know what it feels like to be hungry.
In fact, it’s a good thing. They will come to their next meal feeling hungry and ready to eat what is available for them on the table.
When you promise regular meals (3 meals + 1-2 snacks daily), your kids will learn that the kitchen will always re-open at the next eating opportunity so they don’t have to worry about going hungry for long. Of course, there is room for flexibility – that’s life. For the most part however, we want to see consistency on the WHEN so that your kids can trust that food will be there for them.
Job #3 – the “WHERE”: You are responsible for deciding where meals are eaten.
In an ideal world, most meals occur at the dinner table, with the entire family present.
Why at the table? When we eat at the table we are minimizing distractions and it can help all family members to be more mindful of their hunger and fullness cues. It also allows for a protected time of meaningful conversations, a place where everyone can share their ups/downs or highs/lows of the day and feel supported or heard by others.
Why with the family? We know that children and teenagers who eat meals with their families have more self-confidence, get along better with peers, and do better in school; they are less likely to abuse drugs, smoke and have sex.
Since I don’t live under a rock, I am fully aware that eating with your entire family at the table for 100% of your meals is not a reality for you or for me. I’m here to encourage you to simply do your best. One or some is better than none.
What can you do?
- Early mornings: sit at the breakfast table and sip your coffee while your kids eat if you’re not hungry to eat yet.
- At the arena: pack sandwiches and veggies and eat the first part of your supper with your son while your daughter has her hockey practice and then eat the other half of your dinner with daughter while your son is on the ice.
- Before bed: if you missed supper with your family, grab your meal while your kids have their bedtime snack and eat that together instead.
- No time to cook: grab something from the grocery store on the way home or take-out and sit and eat together.
Tell me more about my child’s job!
Your child or children are responsible for the following jobs:
– Eating the amount of food he or she needs
– Learning to eat the foods that YOU serve and eat
– Growing predictably in the way that is right for him or her
– Learning to behave well at mealtime
It takes time for our children to do their jobs – this doesn’t happen instantaneously. A lot of their success is dependent on our consistency as parents to stick to our jobs and not try to steal their jobs by coaxing, bribing, rewarding them to eat. We can also inadvertently let kids steal our jobs by letting them dictate the food that is served, the time and/or location of the meal.
The sDOR can be a game-changer in your home but can sometimes be difficult getting started. If you’re looking for support in changing the division of responsibilities in your home, contact us today and let’s get started.
Take it one bite at a time,
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