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Who wants to put less effort in when it comes to meal times?

Who wants to just sit and enjoy their meal and talk about their day or plans for the weekend?

Who wants to focus on connecting with their families at the table instead of fighting over food?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can do all of these things! As long as you do your job of getting the food on the table, you can clock out and turn the shift over to the kids. Pat yourself on the back as a job well done.

Now, it’s up to them to decide how much to eat (even if that’s nothing at all) of what is on the table, no if’s, ands, or buts! This is known as the Division of Responsibility (DOR) in feeding and there is a large body of research showing that this feeding style helps kids listen to their bodies for what they are hungry for and how much they need. And as an added bonus, you get to dig in to enjoy your own meal.

  1. Set it and forget it. When it comes to feeding kids, parents decide when and what (when mealtime is and what’s being served). Kids decide how. This means that once children can feed themselves, they are supported in choosing what they will eat from what is offered, how much, and in what combination. No more fighting over vegetables, or whether or not they will eat only bread. We really can support children in listening to their own bodies and trusting that what they want is the right thing. This takes all of the power struggle out of mealtime and puts parents and kids in control of the right things. It may feel hard at first to let them forego vegetables, but still have dessert, but, in the long run, this will help them stay in tough with their innate hunger/fullness cues.
  2. Try saying these 6 little words: “you don’t have to eat it.” Take the pressure off of your kids to eat a certain food or number of bites to help everyone feel more relaxed and happy at the table. This also allows kids the freedom to organically try foods when they are ready. Forcing foods or bites can create a stressful environment which can easily backfire and cause some kids to resist eating anything at all, let alone to try a  new food. When you model eating a variety of foods, your kids will naturally want to do the same, when they are ready.
  3. Serve dessert with the meal. (What??!!!) yes, Serve. Dessert. With. The. Meal. Why? There are a few compelling reasons. First, When we decide we are full from dinner but then are presented with a yummy dessert, it can be tough to turn down. We are tempted to eat beyond our body’s fullness cues. Or,  we might eat less dinner in an attempt to save room for dessert, only to be hungry an hour later. And lastly,, if we are rewarded with dessert when we finish our veggies, it can set up a negative association with eating vegetables and can heighten the appeal of dessert. Instead, let’s give all foods a level playing field. After all, food is food. When we are presented with a variety of foods at the same time, possibly including a moderate serving of dessert, it gives us the opportunity to decide what our body needs and wants, without the confusion. At first, children might be super excited and eat their dessert first, but give it some time and the novelty will wear off. They may even (gasp!) leave some on their plate.

Katrina Seidman, MS RDN LDN