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Family Meals Focus

The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter

How to feed your child: birth through adolescence

by Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist

Children are born wanting to eat, knowing how much to eat and inclined to grow in the way that nature intended. Good parenting with feeding preserves those qualities throughout the growing-up years. Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding integrates guidelines for evidence-based feeding with a developmental understanding of the child. Parents provide structuresupport and opportunities to learn Children choose how much and whether to eat from what parents provide.

The Division of Responsibility for Infants

  • The parent is responsible for what
  • The child is responsible for how much (and everything else)

The parent helps the infant to be calm and organized and feeds smoothly, paying attention to information coming from the baby about timing, tempo, frequency and amounts

The Division of Responsibility for babies making the transition to family food

  • The parent is still responsible for what, and is becoming responsible for when and where the child is fed.
  • The child is still and always responsible for how much and whether to eat the foods offered by the parent.

Based on what the child can do, not on how old s/he is, parents guide the child’s transition from nipple feeding through semi-solids, then thick-and-lumpy food, to finger food at family meals.

The Division of Responsibility for Toddlers Through Adolescents

  • The parent is responsible for whatwhenwhere
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

Jobs parents need to do with feeding include…

Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat of what parents provide.

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behavior
  • Not let children graze for food or beverages between times
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them

Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat of what parents provide.

If parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating…

  • Children will eat
  • They will eat the amount they need
  • They will eat an increasing variety of food
  • They will grow predictably
  • They will learn to behave well at the table

Crossing the lines of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding is likely to create feeding problems and distort growth. Trying to control what or how much a child eats or how his body turns out crosses the lines. So does letting the child dictate the family menu.

Properly executed, the division of responsibility addresses concerns about optimum feeding, such as breastfeeding promotion and support, and concerns about food selection and the food supply, such as encouraging fruits and vegetables and responsible use of fat and sugar. It also addresses concerns about the larger food environment, such as too-ready access to soda, fast food, large portion sizes and advertising directed at children.

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