Hands up if you have a picky eater at home. I’m going to tell you something that I hope helps you feel better about this. Picky eating can be a completely typical part of child development.
In fact, most young children are picky about food at some point or another. One day your child might think carrots are the most delicious thing in the world and the next he/she won’t touch them. One day your child might seem to eat their weight in food, while the next they hardly seem to eat at all.
When it comes to picky eating, it’s how we, the caring adults in our children’s lives, model and respond to our children that can help encourage healthier eating habits and happier eaters.
To help guide parents on how to teach their children about food and eating, Ellyn Satter, a well known dietitian and expert on picky eating, developed The Division of Responsibility (DOR) for feeding. It follows the principle that both the parent and child have different responsibilities when it comes to feeding and eating:
- The parent is responsible for what
- The child is responsible for how much (and everything else).
For babies making the transition to family foods:
- The parent is still responsible for what and is becoming more 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.
For toddlers through to adolescents:
- The parent is responsible for what, when, and where.
- The child is responsible for how much and whether.
Let’s break this down a little more. As a parent, you are responsible for:
- What food is offered. This means offering a balance and variety of nutritious foods.
- When it is offered. Having a set schedule for mealtimes and snack times. We can’t emphasize enough how important this is. By scheduling mealtimes and snacks (we suggest about 2-3 hours between eating), your child can build their hunger cues so they’re ready to eat when a mealtime or snack arrives. A consistent schedule also helps your child feel more prepared and calm knowing when a mealtime is coming up.
- Where is is offered. Help children pay attention to eating by making mealtime in a set location, away from other activities. For meals at home, eat at a table or counter while sitting, away from distractions like toys or TV. While away from home, work toward sitting down and putting aside time to eat meals/snacks.
Then you must trust your child to be responsible for:
- How much they eat
- Whether they eat at all
On one hand, using DOR principles means no more negotiations over having just one more bite or insisting your child finish what is on their plate before leaving the table (yay!). On the other hand, this may seem like a very drastic and overwhelming change for your family.
Our suggestion is to start small with incorporating changes into your family’s routine around eating. Try first to set a schedule and structure to your mealtimes and snacks and give your family time to adjust. We suggest something like, breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner, (you might have an extra snack 2 hours before dinner depending on timing).
By understanding and embracing the DOR principles you can help your child develop a positive relationship with food and become a happier, healthier eater. The real bonus is that mealtimes will be enjoyable again.
Stay tuned for the next post by Collective Therapy where Jehanne and Erin talk more about tips for incorporating DOR principles into your household.
This article was written by Jehanne Hill (occupational therapist) and Erin MacGregor (registered dietitian). Erin and Jehanne will be co-facilitating an upcoming online class called Picky Eating 101: Raising a happy eater. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Week one: Creating the right learning experiences around food. We’ll dive a bit deeper into the DOR principles and give you practical ways of adopting it into your family.
Week Two: Nutrition basics. You’ll learn everything you need to know about making healthy food choices for your family and serving balanced, nutritional meals.
Week Three: Setting the table for success. Learn how sensory exploration plays a part in developing a child’s healthy eating habits and how children learn to like new foods.
Week Four: Meal planning and prep. We’ll give you everything you need to start planning and preparing meals you feel good about serving to your family. We even have a great meal planning tool for you to use.
Throughout the four weeks we’ll be available for all your picky eating questions in our members-only forum. Feel free to use this space to ask questions specific to your family’s situation and needs.
Registration for class is limited and closes Monday June 13th 11:59pm PST (tonight!). Class starts Thursday, June 16th. Sign up HERE! We hope to see you in class!
*Tip: You may qualify for coverage from your insurance provider under occupational therapy or registered dietitian services.