A Bouquet of Tips for Parents

Registered dietician Maryann Jacobsen has gathered a generous selection of excellent suggestions for parents, and backs them all up with references. She places a great deal of importance on communal meals served at stated times, and discourages snacking and grazing. Even if a family’s schedule is impossible during the week, one big major shared meal on the weekend should be doable. For any meals, she recommends family-style serving. In other words, pass the bowl around and let kids help themselves to the amounts they feel comfortable with. This recommendation is based on the teachings of Ellyn Satter, whose official biography describes her as:

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Family Therapist and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding, who pioneered the Satter Feeding Dynamics Model and the Satter Eating Competence Model. She is the author of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which is the gold standard for feeding children.

Regulating Food Intake

The Division of Responsibility doctrine aims to build trust and competency, and help children work out their ability to regulate food intake by learning to recognize physiological cues. Evidence shows that 85% of young parents have made efforts to feed their children more at meals. On the other hand, other parents try restricting portions. According to Satter’s philosophy, no bribery or coaxing is to be done by parents, and no portion restriction, either.

The rule for babies is slightly different than for older kids. With infants, the parent is responsible for the what, obviously, since little babies can’t get their own food. But the child is responsible for how much of it to accept, and when, and where. For everybody else, toddlers through teenagers, the parent is responsible for what, when, and where — for providing food of the parents’ choice, at a certain time and place. But the child decides whether to eat, and how much.

Making Mealtime Pleasant

This works better if parents also provide a pleasant atmosphere for sharing sustenance. The emotional ambiance of a meal influences people in ways that can be very destructive. Whatever else is going on in the household, mealtime should be a truce with no snarking or sniping. This is the place to demonstrate good manners and good eating habits. Jacobsen advises parents to make use of everyday moments to pass along the tenets of healthful eating:

Children learn about nutrition simply by seeing which foods are served and how often. The foods you have in your house should be in line with your beliefs about food and nutrition. They will go out into the world and notice the difference and this is where you can gradually teach them about nutrition.

Another recommendation is to expose kids to a variety of nutritious foods, and a very patient parent will not give up, but will try again, and perhaps look into different cooking or presentation methods that might inspire a child to finally try a particular item. Kids who help with the preparation and cooking processes are apparently more willing to eat the resulting food, so the answer might be as simple as enticing them to join the kitchen crew.

This fits in with another piece of advice Jacobsen offers to parents: Embrace cooking. To do a good job of obtaining food and of getting it ready and serving it is an enormous commitment of time and energy. As she says, “We can hate every minute of it or embrace our role as provider.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “15 of the All-Time Best Strategies for Raising Healthy Eaters,” RaiseHealthyEaters.com, 02/07/14.
Source: “Ellyn Satter, MS, RDN, LCSW, BCD,” EllynSatterInstitute.org.
Source: “Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” EllynSatter.com.
Image by kelly.

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