The Division of Responsibility will change the way you feed your child forever, for the better. It’s hands down, by far, the most valuable concept I learned while getting my Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science. I use it all day, every day, when feeding my daughter.
If you’ve found yourself making two meals, feeling like mealtimes have become a battleground for picky eating, or if you are worrying they are eating too much, too little, or not the right foods, this post is for you.
My daughter was born healthy, but on the smaller side at 6 pounds 4 ounces. I remembered a family member telling me that since I didn’t eat meat, my baby would be too small, and I questioned my feeding choices. When my daughter was 9 months old, a routine test revealed she was low in iron, and I worried about her diet. But this wasn’t the only time I questioned my mothering skills and worried about her. I worried if she was getting enough breastmilk, I worried how much she was sleeping, I worried about her getting sick. I worried a lot as a new mom, and it was exhausting.
This worry and desire to be a good parent carried over into my feeding practices. Although her low iron resolved itself at her 1-year checkup and she continued to thrive, I remained focused on her eating. I wanted to make sure she was eating enough calories, enough protein, enough iron, enough Omega-3s.
Fortunately, I took my first pediatric nutrition class around this time and learned about the Division of Responsibility. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. Instinctively, because of my desire to be the best parent for my child, I had been trying to control her eating. I wasn’t allowing her to listen to her hunger and fullness cues. I wasn’t trusting her.
Following the Division of Responsibility allowed me to bring the joy back to mealtime. I set aside my desire to control her eating and allowed her the opportunity to listen to what her body was telling her. It gave me a blueprint for feeding my daughter and allowed me to relax and enjoy family meals again.
The Division of Responsibility: What Is It?
The Division of Responsibility is an evidence-based way to feed your child created by Registered Dietitian and Feeding Expert Ellyn Satter. It helps children learn to listen to their bodies and form a healthy, lifelong relationship with food. Organizations including The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The American Academy of Pediatrics, Head Start and WIC recommend this feeding method.
The Division of Responsibility says that parents and children have unique jobs when it comes to eating.
- The parent’s job is to decide what, when, and where to eat. Parents choose and prepare the food for regular meals and sit-down snacks. The parent’s job is over when the food is on the table.
- The child’s job is to decide how much and whether or not to eat. Trust your child to eat the right amount for their body. Allow them to eat when hungry and stop when full. If they don’t want to eat something, don’t make them.
Essentially, it allows you to set boundaries during mealtimes by taking charge of when, where and what your child will eat while giving your child the freedom to listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues by deciding how much and if they will eat.
Start Now by Following These 6 Tips
1. Schedule mealtimes. Set regular meals and snack times that your child can count on, but don’t serve food between these times. This helps them come to the table hungry.
2. Serve meals family style. Instead of plating their food, put each dish in the middle of the table and let everyone serve themselves. This encourages your child to eat intuitively and become a confident eater. If your child doesn’t take some of each food, that’s okay.
3. Don’t cater to your child. Instead of asking your child what they want or making special meals for them, take their likes and dislikes into account. Include at least 1 or 2 foods they typically eat at each meal (side dishes are fine).
4. Don’t pressure them to eat. It might be tempting to encourage your child to eat their vegetables or take “one more bite,” but pressuring your child does not help them learn to like vegetables in the long run. In fact, it may harm their self-regulation or cause them to become pickier eaters.
5. Allow your child to eat intuitively. Kids should choose what and how much of each food you serve. Select mostly healthy options and allow them to eat as many helpings of each food as they want, or none at all. Focus on enjoying your food and allow them to do the same. Over time, they will learn to like many of the same foods you do.
6. But let them eat cake! Serving only “healthy” foods and forcing them to pick from “good” options may seem like a good idea at first. Although it’s great to include mostly nutrient-packed foods in your child’s meals or snacks, aim for a balance. Restricting food, especially sweet, salty, or high-fat foods, may backfire and lead to a child desiring the food even more, sneaking the food, or overeating when they have the chance. It doesn’t teach them to eat intuitively. Offer dessert regularly, without strings attached. Don’t make them eat their veggies or clean their plate.
It’s a Learning Process
If the Division of Responsibility is new, it might take time for you and your family to adjust. It’s common for kids to test these new boundaries but stay the course and trust that over time they will start listening to their bodies intuitively and including new foods into their diet.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t perfect the Division of Responsibility right away. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Some areas may come easier than others.