This blog was written by one of our volunteers, Larissa Stanley.

Our body’s ability to function is really more amazing than I will ever completely understand. Young children are excellent proof of this. Prior to any outside pressure, young children are able to self-regulate when they are eating. What does this mean? They are able to decide to eat, as well as stop eating according to their body’s internal cues for hunger and fullness (1). Children have varying growth patterns week-to-week and their bodies let them know just how much they need to fuel their body and grow that day (1).

As a parent, you can help your child have a positive relationship with food and allow them to continue listening to those natural hunger and fullness cues. 

This ability for their bodies to regulate themselves is pretty amazing but can become complicated when parenting your little ones. In reality, it can be worrying when your child has only taken a few bites of dinner and tells you they are full. You want what is best for your children, so they can grow and thrive. However,  as a parent, you do not know what you child’s growth pattern is at a given time. Research shows us that pressuring children to eat food when they are not hungry causes many children to stop listening to those natural cues as they grow older. (1)

At Calgary Family Nutrition, we support the principles of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibilities (DOR). This can help develop your child’s positive and healthy relationship with food. It focuses on the importance of structured meals and parent’s leadership during those meals (2).

Simply put, both you and your child have specific jobs (3). 

As a parent, you take leadership in the WHAT, WHEN and WHERE of feeding your child. 

Your child determines IF they eat at all and HOW MUCH they eat. 

To help your child develop and maintain a healthy and positive relationship with food, keep the following things in mind. 

  • You are responsible for WHAT the healthy choices are that they are offered. This includes all foods that are coming into your house and offering a variety of foods at each meal. 
  • Try to aim for WHEN you provide food to be consistent and structured. Supply meals and snacks at the same time each day and try to avoid “grazing” between these times. This will your child will know when to expect food and have the best opportunity to be hungry at those times. 
  • Aim for WHERE the food is served to be without distractions such as the screens or toys. You child can then focus on connecting and enjoying meals with your family.
  • Your child is always watching and learning from you. Model how they should be behaving at the dinner table. 
  • Trust that your child will respond to their natural hunger cues. Refrain from commenting on how much they did or did not eat. 

This is a brief overview of the Division of Responsibilities. Implementing these principles has its challenges however the rewards are numerous as you raise a child with healthy behaviours surrounding food and mealtimes. Over the coming days, together we will explore how to maintain both your and your child’s “jobs” in everyday life. 

If you need more guidance on helping develop your child’s healthy relationship with food and are considering implementing these principles, book an appointment with Calgary Family Nutrition to see a Registered Dietitian!

(1)Hughes SO, Frazier-Wood AC. Satiety and the self-regulation of food take in children: A potential role for gene-environment interplay. Current obesity reports. 2016;5(1):81-87. doi:10.1007/s13679-016-0194-y.

(2) https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/]

(3) https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/family-meals-focus/62-feeding-is-parenting/]