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By Carla Centola, RD

As parents, we want our children to eat foods that they enjoy, but also eat the foods that will provide them with the nutrients they need. All of that can make meals a stressful time for everyone.

Maybe you find yourself saying things like “three more bites” or “you need to eat your broccoli before you’re allowed a cookie”. Or maybe you sometimes use food as a reward. But, don’t beat yourself over it. It’s been a crazy year and I think we all deserve an award for making it to November!

Take heart, all is not lost

I might have a solution for you, which will decrease your stress level and allow your children to feel more empowered. A win-win!

As a dietitian, I think of food as more than fuel for the day (although it is efficient at that task!). I value food for the community it brings.  We learn about different cultures and communities, and we bond over food (you know, by breaking bread) and we discover how to combine different flavours to create new or traditional dishes.

Our bodies are incredible! Among others, your body can signal hunger or fullness. Your job is to decipher the signal!

We can teach our kids how to acknowledge these cues and help them develop a healthy relationship with food. How?  By giving them the opportunity to determine what foods they want to eat, and how much they want to eat. Yes, it’s OK if your kid skips the greens tonight and here’s why.

How to teach kids about a healthy diet and healthy relationship with food

You may have heard of a model called “the division of responsibility” that dietitians use. The concept was created by a nutrition and feeding expert Ellyn Satter. Division of responsibility refers to what the parents and children are each responsible for when it comes to feeding. It also suggests that with support, a healthy eating environment and some guidance, children will be able to decide what they eat. That will help them develop a healthy relationship with food.

It may seem silly to allow our children to make food choices but over time, that will allow them to develop a healthy relationship with food which will stay with them for life.


So what exactly does this model look like?

Here’s something to think bout: Children have the responsibility of determining the amount of food they need, and if they’re going to eat.

Your responsibility as parents is to select a variety of foods, prepare different foods, and serve them at appropriate times. Simply put, we decide what, when, and where to we offer the food. Our children decide if they’re hungry and whether they’re going to eat everything that’s served, or just a part of it.

You may find it hard to give up some of the control of what your child is eating. Will they eat enough and will they get enough nutrients if they don’t want the veggies two dinners in a row (the horror!). Here’s the good news: our bodies have an incredible way of talking to us. All we have to do is have patience, and learn how to listen.

Who is responsible for what?

For infants:

Parents responsibilities Infants responsibilities
What the baby is fed (formula or breast milk) ***Please see note below
Creating a calm and responsive feeding environment by listening to cues from the baby Where to eat
Adjusting environment to accommodate the baby’s cues (timing, tempo, amount of feeds or frequency of feeding) How much to eat

***Note- for infants, our sole responsibility is to create a calm and happy environment, and also, paying attention to the cues. Babies choose how much to eat, and they communicate both hunger and satiety through those cues.

For Toddlers:

Parents responsibilities Children’s responsibilities
What foods are offered Whether or not they eat what is offered
What time the food is offered (and where the food is offered) How much they choose to eat


For Children:

Parents responsibilities Children’s responsibilities
What foods are offered Whether or not they choose what is offered
When and where the food is offered How much they eat

Do you have more questions about where to get started or how to bring this framework into your family? I am here to help. Call the office to schedule an appointment with me at your earliest convenience. We can take a look at what your family mealtimes currently look like and where to go from there. Happy eating!



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