Feeding Your Family When Food is Frustrating Part 1

It’s 4:00pm & the most dreaded question of the day pops into your mind.“What’s for dinner?” 

You’ve got something in mind, but will anyone else eat it? Never mind eat it, will anyone else even touch it? The struggle is real when it comes to feeding your family, especially when food is frustrating. Some families have selective eaters (I don’t use the word “picky”, more on that later), some have allergies or intolerances and some of us just feel lost

To give some background, I am a dietitian, I love to cook and create recipes, and my three children would all prefer to eat toast and yogurt over most foods, most days of the week. So, I give the following advice with a sympathetic ear. One of the best things you can say to your child at mealtimes is, “You don’t have to eat it”. Hear me out. 

The Satter Division of Responsibility (sDOR) is an evidence-based approach to feeding your family. It is not a diet, and there are no specific rules to follow. It is, however, a roadmap for more peaceful mealtimes and most importantly, for setting you and your child(ren) up for a healthy and successful relationship with food choices. 

The idea is that parents provide the food and set boundaries around meals, and the child chooses whether to eat. Parents decide what, where, and when. The child decides if and how much. Developed and pioneered by Ellyn Satter, a dietitian, feeding therapist and psychotherapist, this practice can eliminate mealtime stress and give children confidence and ownership over food choices. Instead of the “try a bite” battle, the responsibility is on the child to decide if they try a food and how much they want to eat. 

Consider this:

Parent’s Job

Child’s Job

  • Choose the foods to serve and prepare them how you want your family to eat them
  • Provide a meal and snack schedule
  • Make mealtimes enjoyable
  • Model good behavior
  • Understand that each child and body is different
  • Describe foods and what they might taste/smell/feel like but avoid pressuring anyone to taste foods
  • Avoid using food as a reward
  • Choose the foods they want to eat, based on what is served
  • Free to eat the amount they want, based on what is available at that meal
  • Observe and learn mealtime behavior
  • Free to be done eating when they are full
  • Learn to accept that not every meal will be your favorite
  • Learn to accept that we must wait for another meal for another choice
© 2022 by Ellen Satter. www.EllenSatterInstitute.org


Excited? Intimidated? Rolling your eyes?

Food waste with kids is real! It’s awful to make a meal and see it end up in the trash. If that sounds familiar, the Division of Responsibility method might be worth trying. But like anything else, it takes planning and practice to see success. 

Make a Schedule

Kids (and adults) need to eat throughout the day at regular times. For toddlers and young kids, consider something like this:

7:30 Breakfast

10:00 Snack

12:00 Lunch

3:30 Snack

5:45 Dinner

7:00 Bedtime snack

7:30 Bedtime

In the sDOR, a schedule of meals provides the where and when. Next, decide what to provide. Snacks are your friend! You want a snack to taste good, but also to provide the necessary nutrition to get you to the next meal. A balanced snack provides carbs (kids need carbs!), fat (kids need fat!) and protein (kids need protein!). 

For example- kids love crunchy snacks. Think pretzels, fish crackers, popcorn, chips, the list goes on and on. Crunchy snacks are fine and have a place on the plate, but they aren’t enough to get you to the next meal (especially if you are a tired, busy toddler). So, if you decide (sDOR) to offer pretzels, adding a full-fat cheese stick will provide protein and fat, and apple slices will provide carbs and fiber. 

Why the bedtime snack?

This works for some families and not for others, but I’ve found a bedtime snack is beneficial. It is not intended to be a second dinner, nor to encourage kids to skip dinner because they know a snack is coming. It is merely on the schedule, is part of the routine, and is a planned meal they can choose to eat or not. Bedtime snack in our house is usually something like toast with nut butter and banana, yogurt with fruit, pretzels with hummus, or apples and cheese. 

The goal is for the snack to provide carbs, fat and protein just like any other snack. If the child chooses not to eat any meal or snack offered on the schedule, that is their choice. The good thing about the schedule is they know another meal is coming soon. As the parent, you don’t have to worry about the child being hungry. Your responsibility is to offer the food. It is the child’s responsibility to eat it. 

The information does not stop here! Keep following along for Part 2 of this series.

NOTE: This post is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Please reach out to your pediatrician or a feeding therapist in the case of serious health or feeding issues. 

For more about following sDOR at every age, see the Feeding with Love and Good Sense booklets.

For more about the evidence, see The Satter Feeding Dynamics Mode

Crunchy snacks to add into the mix:

100% Organic Apple Fruit Snacks (8.5g, 24 Packs)

Honey Roasted Chickpea Snacks (4 Pack)

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