30 Jan Help for Picky Eaters
Creating Stress-Free Mealtimes
Feeding struggles are common, making dinnertime full of stress, fights and tears. It is understandable that you are concerned if your kid refuses to eat multiple meals in a row, or never wants to try a new food. So you enforce a “3 bite rule,” don’t offer dessert if dinner wasn’t consumed, and bring out said refused dinner for bedtime snack. Or try sneaking vegetables into your child’s food. And not only does your child now seem to be eating less than ever, but there are tears. Fights. Tantrums…. on the part of both the parent and the child. And then you read that rules such as these can negatively affect your child’s eating practices for life! Possibly leading to not only an even pickier eater, but an unhealthy relationship with food and the potential for disordered eating or weight issues as an adult.
So you stopped the struggle and fights. Maybe you decided to go to the other end of the spectrum: you prepare one of the 3 items you know your child will eat for dinner every single night, and if they want a snack they can have it whenever. Now that your child has pick of what they eat, they seem to be eating more…. but they certainly are not branching out to try new foods and you’re exhausted from being a short-order cook!
So what’s the ‘middle ground’ that actually works? Social worker and registered dietitian Ellyn Satter created the Division of Responsibility. It’s an excellent model for creating boundaries for feeding, while trusting that your child knows his appetite best and letting him choose how much to eat. If you are able to follow this concept (which looks easy, but can be difficult in practice!), not only will you be less likely to have a picky eater, but also you are raising a child who has a healthy relationship with food.
Here’s how it works:
Parent’s Feeding Responsibilities:
When the child eats, where they eat and what they are offered to eat.
- When: By 1 year, most children should be offered three regular meals in addition to a few snacks daily. The snacks should not be constant nibbles throughout the day, but at scheduled times, or your child will not build up an appetite for the next meal.
- Where: All family members, including babies and toddlers will benefit from eating at the table with the family. It is dangerous for your little one to be eating while running around, and the family meal creates a child that is happier and does better in life! Studies show adolescents who have regular family meals are less likely to do drugs or drink, they eat healthier and do better in school.
- What: You are responsible for the foods that your child is offered to eat. The “ideal” meal includes a good balance of foods and food groups. This is the role that often the child will attempt to take over, creating a parent who becomes a short-order cook!
Child’s Feeding Responsibilities:
How much and if they eat!
- How Much: Allow your child (no matter their age) to take the lead role in eating. Their appetites can vary greatly from day to day. If you are able to relax about how much your child eats, you do not set up power struggles with eating. This is the hardest thing for many parents to ‘let-go’ of. I assure you, it’s not your job to simply get your child to eat their broccoli. It’s your job to help them grow up with a healthy relationship with food.
- If: Especially with babies, toddlers & preschoolers, it’s very common for them to choose to eat nothing at all. Trust that your child is doing what his/her body is requesting. While kids do a good job of listening to their appetites, adults do not – and we want them to keep this skill as long as possible!
Want to see how this worked for Sarah and her son? Read her story here.
Looking for support in implementing the Division of Responsibility in Feeding in your household? Check out my Picky Eating services here.