Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why won't my child eat their meals?

We've all been there. Trying to feed a family with five kids is like trying to figure out how to pay off the national debt.  I'm serious.  One of my kids will say, "That's my favorite meal!" and the other will say "I'm really not that hungry."  And it goes on and on!  At times, it can be very frustrating  for a parent to know how much or whether their child will eat food at mealtimes.  As a parent, we want our children to eat healthy and finish all the food we place on their plate.  I think that's also called "wishful thinking."  However, according to Ellen Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD an internationally authority on eating and feeding, we can learn how to feed our infants and children of all ages.  I was amazed while attending college when I first read one of Ellen Satter's research papers.  I was thrilled to know that all those peas and carrots my kids left behind wasn't so bad after all!  According to Satter, I would like to discuss the meaning of  Division of Responsibility in feeding our children.

At times, it can be very frustrating for a parent to know how much or whether their child will eat food at mealtimes.  When it comes to feeding, there is a division of responsibility between the parent and child.  A child will naturally know the right amount of food to eat.  They know how much to eat to grow up and get the body that is right for them, learn to enjoy food their parents eat, and learn to have manners at the dinner table.  However, as parents we must too be responsible to help our child have good eating habits.

To help a child eat well, parents must first decide what a good meal to prepare is.  Preparing meals that you enjoy cooking and that everyone will be pleased with is a good start.  A meal might include four or five food choices that are different in variety, something completely different than you would normally eat, and including a food item that most family members enjoy, such a bread.  Also, don't prepare a second meal if your child does not like the one at hand.  Second, parents need to make sure that their child is eating at the proper time.  If a child becomes hungry between meals, she can have a sit down snack accompanied with water, but an all day access to food is not recommended.  Third, even at the age of 15 months old, a child can know where to sit at the family table and enjoy the company of family and friends.  By seeing her parents or adults eating a variety of tasty foods, she too through examples of others can slowly learn to be an efficient eater and learn how to properly behave and eat. Overall, it is necessary to take responsibility in feeding a child through what, where, and when we feed them.  Through these actions, a child will know how much and whether to eat.

I thought it would be handy if I included an exact outline of Ellen Satter's Division of Responsibility.

According to Satter, "Children develop eating competence step-by-step throughout the growing-up years when they are fed according to a stage-appropriate division of responsibility.  At every stage, parents take leadership with feeding and let the child be self-directed with eating."

The division of responsibility for infants:

  • The parent is responsible for what.
  • The child is responsible for how much (and everything else).
Parents choose breast- or formula-feeding, help the infant be calm and organized, then feed smoothly paying attention to information coming the baby about timing, tempo, frequency, and amounts.

The division of responsibility for older babies making the transition to family food.
  • The parent is still responsible for what, and is becoming 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
Based on what the child can do, not how old, s/he is, parents guide the child's transition from nipple feeding through semi-solids, then thick-and-lumpy food, to finger food at family meals.

The division of responsibility for toddlers through adolescents.
  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where.
  • The child is responsible for how much, and whether.
Fundamental to parents' jobs is trusting children to decide how much and whether to eat.  If parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating.

Parents' feeding jobs:
  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behavior
  • Be considerate of children's food inexperience without catering to likes and dislikes
  • Not let children have food or beverages (except for water) between meals and snack times
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them
Children's eating jobs:
  • Children will eat
  • They will eat the amount they need
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat
  • They will grow predictably
  • They will learn to behave well at mealtime.

By following these guidelines, you can learn to RELAX and ENJOY what should be an awesome time of the day.  MEALTIME!  Now let's go and eat some shaved ice!

My grandson eating his favorite flavor of shaved ice!