Healthy Living in the North

A sigh of relief: trusting kids to eat enough

An adorable child, with food all over it's face, smiles into the camera and holds a peanut butter and jam sandwich.

Children of all ages have the ability to regulate their food intake. The division of responsibility in feeding trusts, respects, and protects this ability.

Many parents of young children worry that their kids don’t eat enough. As a dietitian and a mother of a young child, I totally get it. We want the best for our children; we want them to be healthy and to get the nutrition they need.

Mealtime struggles

Parents and caregivers often tell me about the strategies they use to try to get kids to eat. We keep them at the table, prompt them to take a few more bites, chase them with spoons (“airplane!”), praise them when they finish their plates, negotiate with them, and entice them with dessert. It’s a lot of work. Kids often resist these efforts, and parents get frustrated. And kids are frustrated too! It’s an exhausting experience for many families.

Is there a different way?

Fortunately, yes. Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding (DOR, for short) is the recommended approach to feeding children. This approach helps prevent and manage a lot of common feeding challenges. It’s based on trusting that children of all ages are capable of determining how much to eat to grow and be well.

Adults’ roles and kids’ roles

In short, the DOR outlines adults’ roles with feeding, and kids’ roles with eating.

Adults are responsible for deciding what foods to offer, and when and where to offer them. Ideally, they would provide a variety of foods over the course of the day, offered at regular meal and snack times, in ways that support eating together. Once adults have done these pieces, their job is done.

Then, it’s up to the kids – they decide how much to eat from the foods provided, or whether to eat at any meal or snack time. Adults don’t have to do, or say, anything about how much is eaten – this is left up to the child.

Learning to trust

In my experience, at first, parents can find it hard to trust the DOR (also known as the “trust model”): “Letting kids decide how much to eat – is that a responsible thing to do? Won’t they starve?” In fact, right from birth, children can eat the amount they need to grow well. A hungry baby will let you know! And when they are satisfied, they’ll let go of the nipple, turn their head away, lose interest, and/or fall asleep. As they grow older, children continue to have the ability to regulate their food intake. The DOR is all about trusting, respecting, and protecting this ability.

A shift

It can be quite a shift to learn to trust kids to eat enough. There’s also a bit to learn about how to apply the DOR; however, in my experience, when parents and caregivers start to apply this approach, many feel a huge sense of relief. They’ve been working so hard – too hard – and they can finally take a step back, and learn to trust their children to do their part with eating. In turn, children will start to become more relaxed at meal times as well, eating the amounts they have appetite for, and (eventually) exploring a greater variety of foods.

Learn more

Interested in learning more about the division of responsibility in feeding? Consider the following resources:

It might also be helpful to connect with a dietitian:

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Foodie Friday: Handling Halloween

Ingredients for stew recipe

Use some of B.C.’s delicious fall harvest vegetables to prepare a Moroccan stew this fall!

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are changing to beautiful colours of yellow, red and orange and it is getting darker earlier (way earlier) – all evidence that autumn is here. For many children, this means that one of their most anticipated holidays of the season is near: Halloween! Kids everywhere look forward to trick-or-treating on Halloween and this can be a dilemma for many parents who worry about the sugary treats that their kids will be eating.

I often remind parents in this situation of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Sugary treats in and of themselves are not the problem; it is when these treats replace healthy foods and are frequently eaten instead meals and snacks that they can be a problem.

Parents and caregivers are responsible for offering regular meals and sit-down snacks. In other words, parents decide what to provide and when to provide it. Children, in turn, are responsible for deciding how much to eat and whether or not to eat what is offered. This allows children to learn to self-regulate food intake (including sweet treats) by listening to their internal cues of hunger and fullness to decide how much to eat.

Now let’s apply the Division of Responsibility in Feeding to the pile of Halloween candy that your kids bring home on October 31!

As the parent or caregiver, you decide when to offer the treats. Maybe you will offer some with an after-school snack or perhaps as dessert a few times a week. When candy is on the menu, offer it along with the snack or meal and let your child choose what and how much to eat from everything that is offered. Eventually, the novelty of the candy will wear off and you will notice they will begin to eat less of the candy and more of the healthier options as long as you keep the structure of regular meals and sit-down snacks. Kids, like adults, crave variety when it comes to eating and will tire quickly of eating only the candy portion of their meal or snack.

How will you handle Halloween this year?

Another tell-tale sign of autumn is the fall harvest in our gardens, communities, and grocery stores! I myself love autumn because of the food we reap from the fall harvest: colourful winter squash from my garden, B.C. McIntosh apples (think homemade applesauce and apple pie!), and pears from the neighbours’ trees, to name a few.

The recipe below is a favourite dish in our house and I often make it before the trick-or-treating begins.

Moroccan Stew

Adapted from Dietitians of Canada‘s Simply Great Food

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 small to medium-sized butternut squash or 1 sweet potato, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger root, grated
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 can (19 oz / 540 ml) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 4 cups low-sodium broth

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, squash, ginger, cumin and cinnamon; cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, chickpeas and broth and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until vegetables are just tender.
  4. Enjoy!
Beth Evans

About Beth Evans

As a registered dietitian, Beth is dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities make the healthiest choices available to them, and enjoy eating well based on their unique realities and nutrition needs. Juggling work and a very busy family life, Beth is grateful for the time she spends with her family enjoying family meals, long walks and bike rides. She also loves the quiet times exploring in her garden, experimenting in the kitchen, and practicing yoga and meditation.

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Foodie Friday: Packing school lunches: Part 2

Apple, plums, cheese slices, muffin, leftover dinner, almonds, vegetables, and yogurt in containers.

Curious as to what a dietitian packs for her own lunch? Lise loves variety in her lunch but may not get through all of this during her workday. She’ll listen to her stomach and see what she needs!

Are you worried that your kid doesn’t eat enough at school? Does most of their lunch come back home at the end of the day? Is your kid so hungry after school that they are ready to have a meltdown? What to do??

In a recent blog post, we were inspired with some school lunch ideas. The Division of Responsibility in Feeding can help us here, too, by outlining parents’ jobs with feeding and kids’ jobs with eating.

Parents are responsible for deciding what foods are offered at meal and snack times, so it is up to you to decide what to include in the daily lunch bag.

As they get older, you can involve your kids in packing their own lunches by giving them some choices, such as: “For your fruit today, do you want an apple or a banana?” or “For your milk product, do you want yogurt or cheese slices?”

Your teen will eventually be able to take over the job of packing lunch, although you can still check in: “Did you pack food from 3 or 4 food groups?” and “Did you pack your water bottle?”

Once the lunch is packed and off to school, your job is done!

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding includes jobs for kids, too. It is up to your kid to decide in what order they will eat their food items or how much of each particular item they will eat. Your kid’s appetite can change from day to day; by listening to their body’s “hungry” and “full” messages, they know how much to eat.

As an aside, many schools have changed their lunch hour so that play time occurs before eating time. This is called “Play First Lunch” and school staff find that kids are more focused on eating their lunch, are better behaved and are more prepared to learn.

If there is no afternoon snack at school, your kid will benefit from a sit-down snack after school. Make this available every day, regardless of how much they have eaten for their lunch. As with packing lunch, you are responsible for deciding what to offer for this snack. As your kids get older, they can start to manage this snack with your guidance, such as “Choose foods from 2 food groups” and “Sit at the table for your snack.”

Curious as to what a dietitian packs for her own lunch? The photo above is one example: leftover spaghetti squash with meat and veggie sauce, an apple, 2 small plums, snap peas & carrots, blueberry yogurt, cheddar cheese slices, a homemade fruit muffin and almonds. I love a lot of variety in my lunch, although I may not get through all of this during my workday – I’ll listen to my tummy and see what I need!

The recipe below is my “master fruit muffin recipe,” but I often modify the ingredients. I might swap the ratio of banana to apples, or use a plum or pear sauce instead of applesauce. In terms of flour, sometimes I use only whole wheat flour or only white flour, while at other times I throw in some oats or bran. Sometimes I add cinnamon, ginger or other spices. It all depends on what I have available in my kitchen at the time and what I am in the mood for.

Lise’s Master Fruit Muffin Recipe

Makes 12 muffins

Dry ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt

Wet ingredients

  • 1½ cup overripe banana
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1½ cup fresh or frozen cranberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare muffin tins.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl.
  3. Mix wet ingredients together in another bowl.
  4. Mix wet and dry ingredients together until just moist, quickly spoon into muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes.

These fruit muffins are quite moist, and so are best eaten within a day or two. Alternatively, double the batch and freeze the muffins for future lunches and snacks.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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