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Do you remember what feeding your kids was like before you discovered Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding?
You might remember feeling a sense of deep failure that your child didn’t eat fruit or vegetables. You may remember feeling stressed out before each dinner time. You wondered what I could try next to “get them to eat”. Nothing seemed to work. Perhaps your most vivid memory is the disappointment of rejected food. I’m willing to bet that you were not enjoying meals together.

When you first discovered Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, you were excited at the prospect of trying something new.
You discovered that you have certain feeding jobs to do (stay in charge of what, when and where your child eats) and let them do their jobs of eating (decide how much and whether to eat). You learned that pressuring your child to eat was counter-productive and that your child’s eating competence would improve with a balance of structure, support and autonomy. There was the promise that things would get better, so you backed off and began to observe what your child could do without pressure.

At first, it felt good to simply focus on enjoying mealtimes and creating a mealtime structure for your family. But then the novelty wore off. Perhaps you noticed your child eating fewer foods than they did before! You fell back to worrying about how few vegetables your child was eating and worrying whether they were “getting enough nutrients” or enough “variety”.

With this worry, you fell back to relying on pressure to get kids to eat.

  • negotiating numbers of bites
  • insisting on no-thank-you bites
  • pleading and bribes
  • or desperately asking your child “What do you want to eat?

The “progress” towards eating competence can seem SO slow.
Some days it feels like you are back where you started, doesn’t it? But you ARE NOT.
Before Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR) your goal was to get your child to eat in a certain way, for example “eat more vegetables”. However, when you embraced sDOR the goalpost shifted to something else altogether. Something much more important, and well within your reach.
When sDOR is “working well”, the following become your measures of success rather than how many veggies are eaten:

  • You feed yourself and your child faithfully: at reliable and predictable meals and snack times.
  • You notice pleasure: you enjoy meals and snacks and you notice your child finding mealtimes pleasurable too.
  • You worry less and trust more: You trust that your child is learning to eat the right amount of food for them. You trust they will (eventually) learn to eat the food the rest of the family eats. You trust them to make up for their mistakes with eating.
  • Your child is calmer and happier at mealtime.
  • They come to the table ready to eat and behave well when they get there.
  • Sometimes your child eats more or less than you expected them to: Their body knows how much to eat.
  • Your child eats if it tastes good to them and won’t eat much or any if it doesn’t.
  • Eating gets done with less fuss: there’s less whining for food in-between meals or less complaining about the food offered.

A steady nerve
It takes a steady nerve and the ability to see progress in all its forms. Progress with sDOR is not limited to moments when your child takes the sometimes rare step of tasting, trying or eating a new food.
Getting pushy and trying to speed up the process of learning how to eat prevents you and your child from enjoying eating. Getting your child to eat more veggies and other pushy goals like it, set you and your child up for failure. On the other hand, Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding encourages you to refocus on many more valuable and rewarding measures of success and ensure that your child’s eating competence will improve over time. We expect that this may take their whole childhood, and many of us are still working on eating competence into the teen years and adulthood.

What helps you stay relaxed about your child’s eating and not get pushy?

Deb Blakley; APD, ESI Associate Graduate

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