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Employee Wellness: Should I Control What My Child Eats?

Happy African American parents and their kids talking while having breakfast together in dining room.

Have you ever wondered if your child is eating too much or not enough? Feeding children can feel stressful. Having a child who asks for constant snacks or does not have an appetite causes concern for many parents. So, should you try harder to control their eating? You might be surprised that being less controlling is more helpful. If letting go of some control is scary for you, you’re in the right place. Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility can help make mealtimes more positive, nourishing, and intuitive for both parent and child.

The Division of Responsibility: The 3 Basics

1. Flexible Eating Schedule

Kids tend to thrive off of a structure and predictability, so having a flexible eating pattern, with some flexibility, is helpful. This lets kids know that they do not have to worry about getting enough food. Lacking a feeding routine could contribute to poor eating, picky eating, and growth problems. Once kids are between the ages of 1-2, they can maintain a regular meal and snack pattern. This makes it easier to work on the additional parent and child roles that support positive mealtime experiences.

2. Parents’ Role

So you’ve made progress offering regular meals and snacks. What else can you do to support your child’s eating habits? First, know your job is feeding the child by providing food and not pressuring the child to eat. Pressuring turns kids away from foods. Below are some tips to help create a positive feeding environment while fostering your child’s inner intuitive eater.

  • Choose the food to buy and prepare it

  • Allow for your child to make food recommendations and consider when you will put them on the menu

  • Consider the child’s taste preference but also consider challenging their palate and offering new foods

  • Provide a space to sit down to eat

  • Trust your child to eat

  • Refrain from offering food or drinks outside of determined meal and snack times

  • Provide drinks of water in-between meals

  • Create a positive eating environment

  • Model and reinforce mealtime behavior

  • Allow your child to grow into the body that is right for them

3. Child’s Role

The parent has a lot of responsibilities in feeding, so what is the child’s job? The child’s role is eating. Children are born with inner wisdom about what and how much they need. To cultivate this inner wisdom as the child grows, allow the child to take ownership of their roles in eating, which include:

  • Eat the amount needed to feel full and satisfied

  • Choose the food they want from what is offered

  • Learn to enjoy food

  • Grow in their perfect growth pattern

  • Learn to behave well at mealtimes

Special Considerations

Some children do have difficulty meeting growth patterns or nutritional needs. If you have feeding or growth concerns, consider talking to your doctor or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Finding medical professionals that support a non-diet approach and have expertise in pediatrics can be helpful.

Provide, Don’t Pressure

Instead of wondering if you should control what your child eats, think, what is the division of responsibility in feeding? If you are the parent, you are in charge of offering and providing. You control how your food budget is utilized, where you shop, what you buy, what is on the menu, and when it is served. Your young child controls how much and what they eat of what is offered. Healthy children have the innate ability to know what their bodies need and how much. Using the Division of Responsibility can help your child remain an intuitive eater and maintain a healthy relationship with food. Restricting kids has the opposite effect. Provide, don’t pressure, and most importantly, enjoy mealtime with your kids.

Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.

Written by Larissa DePasqua, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern


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