Are you finding meal times a battle? Simply feeding your children can become incredibly stressful and something that can feel like a full time job! We worry that our kids aren't eating enough or they're refusing the foods we know are good for them.
Maybe you’re at your wits end with pushing foods on your kids ("three more bites!"), bribing them to eat ("if your eat your dinner, you can have dessert"), or constantly pressuring them to consume "healthy foods," because you know it's good for them.
It can be very tempting to just give up and feed them something you know they'll actually eat (hello white bread, cheese and milk...). But this can very quickly lead to these being the ONLY foods they'll eat.
In my practice, I work with the Division or Responsibility in feeding (sDOR). This way of feeding encourages you, as the parent or caregiver, to select, prepare and serve different foods, so that you decide what, when, and where to offer meals and snacks. And it's your child's role to become a good eater by learning to become responsible for deciding if and how much to eat. It prioritises a child's psychologically healthy relationship with food and, most importantly, it works!
For example, you may decide to offer your toddler some broccoli with their meal at dinner time and that you want them to sit at the table with you. It is then their responsibility to decide how much of this they will eat or whether they will eat it at all.
The division of responsibility in feeding applies at every stage in your child’s growing-up years, from infancy through the early years through adolescence. sDOR says to feed your baby on demand, letting him determine the timing and tempo of feeding. As he develops and becomes more regular in his eating patterns, you gradually take on responsibility for when and where to feed. Most children are ready to join in with the meals-plus-snacks routine of family meals by the end of the first year or the beginning of the second year. After that, parents need to maintain the structure of family meals and sit-down snacks throughout the growing-up years. When you do your jobs with feeding, your child will do his with eating (1).
So your jobs with feeding are to;
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to;
As a nutritionist, I focus on three guiding principles;
Always provide for the changing nutritional needs of your growing child.
Protect and nurture the gut’s critical role in immunity, physical health and mental wellbeing.
Build a positive relationship between your child and nutritious, whole foods.
I believe that sDOR meets all of these principles in the following ways;
You as the parent or caregiver choose which foods you offer your child. By consistently offering a wide range of nutritious, whole foods, your child will learn how to eat in a nutritionally balanced way.
Not only will this provide the nutrients they need to thrive, but will also nourish their gut health - supporting their immunity, physical health and mental wellbeing.
Children are born with an internal hunger gauge that tells them when they're hungry and when they're full. When we try to control how much they eat, we interfere with this natural ability.
As parents, our job is to nurture our child's innate ability to self-regulate so that they can continue to be tuned into it. This means allowing them to decide how much to eat and whether or not they will eat.
As children grow and develop, they are learning about who they are and what they can do. This usually includes telling us "no" to whatever they DO NOT want any part of. This is completely normal and part of their development, but can make meal times tricky as they may begin to use food as a way of testing boundaries with us.
With sDOR, you as the parent decide what foods you offer your child to eat, but they are empowered to make their own eating decisions (the how much they will eat or whether or not they will eat). By following sDOR, they have control and there is no argument about leaving food because you have done your job of offering and they have done theirs of deciding how much and whether.
Realising that your child is responsible for some aspects of their own feeding is a big deal! It takes some of the pressure off and allows you to stress less around meal times.
Less stress = more joy!
Food and mealtimes are not just about nutrition - they're about family, traditions, developing skills, socialising and whole host of other things. Sharing positive and joyful meal times as a family encourages relationships to flourish. Positive mealtimes also provide opportunities for your child to practice motor skills, develop communication and cognitive skills.
So if you've read this far, you're probably looking for the magic bullet here... the HOW part of making this happen with your own children.
Well I'm sorry to say that there is no magic bullet. Like most aspects of parenting, there will be a lot of trial and error, a little frustration and maybe some tears (yours and theirs). So what I can offer you are some tips on getting started.
Our children are always watching us. They will more often than not do as we do, not as we ask. So set the example of how you would like them to eat. Eat a variety of different foods, try new things and speak in a positive way about food.
Perhaps before you start to try this, take a little time to think about your own relationship with food and what it means to the way you eat.
While it's never too late to make changes (my kids were 11, 10 and 4!), if you start with this way of feeding from the very beginning, they will be much more likely to eat a wide variety of foods as they grow.
That being said, you can introduce this way of feeding at any time.
It takes between 8-15 exposures over an extended period of time before most children will accept a new food. Be patient! We are wired to reject things that are unknown to us - it's a safety mechanism. Unknown = dangerous, so it's perfectly normal and natural for a child to reject or feel anxious about trying a new food.
If you consistently offer new foods for them to try if they want to, paired with foods you know they will eat, it is far more likely that they will eventually try the new foods being offered.
Serving food ‘family style’ – putting the food in the middle of the table – and letting each person choose what to put on their own plate, gives children the control to decide what to eat from what you have offered.
A 'family-style' meal might look like deconstructed tacos with separate bowls of meat, beans, different types of vegetables with taco shells or wraps to fill up. Or perhaps pasta with mince, tomatoes, grated cheese
Allowing them the opportunity to make these decisions for themselves takes away the pressure to eat what's on their plate, inspires curiosity and helps them to create confidence around food choices.
This is also a great way for young children to practice their communication and language skills. "Please pass the ...." and "may I have some more ...." with you responding is the perfect way to teach conversation amongst your family.
Praising your child when they take a bite of a new food is very different to saying "eat everything on your plate or you're not leaving the table", however it still puts pressure on little ones to eat, potentially creating a negative relationship with food and/or eating.
Pressure almost always backfires - causing children with low appetites to eat less and children who are hungry to overeat and obsess (2). So instead, allow your child to tune into their own hunger and fullness and let them make the decision about when they've had enough to eat.
Now there are always exceptions to these, and you know your child better than anyone else, so I want to encourage you to seek advice from a health professional if you are worried about your child's eating habits or their health. Sometimes there are deeper reasons for your child's eating habits that need a little extra assistance to overcome.
And finally, I want to reassure you that your child won't starve. In most cases, they will start to try new foods eventually and then you can build on this from there. Be patient and try to let go of some control (this was hard for me too, but so worth it!).
If you'd like to know how I can help you with your child's growth and development, you can book a FREE 20 minute phone consultation with me here.
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