the division of responsibility in feeding

Moms and dads…this is probably going to be one of my most important blog posts I’ll write! And the one that will change your lives around feeding if you can implement what it talks about. So turn off your other screens and see if you can find 10 minutes where you can be alone and really take this all in.

You see…it’s all about setting the foundation for how we want to be feeding our children. 

This foundation will both prevent and manage picky eating. It ensures that we’re raising not only healthy eaters, but competent eaters as well. 

A competent eater means your toddler is learning to associate food and mealtimes in a positive way. They’re also more accepting of new foods and are willing to try a variety of food (because they’ve developed the skills to do this). And finally, they learn to eat according to their hunger and fullness cues. This is what we ideally want! 

Now… we know that sometimes feeding toddlers and babies is really stressful and often the opposite of what I just described.

In fact, this blog post is especially for you if you experience:

  • Stress around mealtimes with your baby/toddler
  • Battles and arguments around how much/what to eat
  • Begging, pleading, distracting or bribing your child to eat
  • The need to cater meals to your child to get them to eat
  • Your toddler is grazing on snacks but never hungry for meals

So I’m going to teach you the one approach to embrace and live out that will help you deal with not only the issues mentioned above, but with pretty much every feeding issue that doesn’t stem from a direct medical problem that prevents your child from eating normally.

Let’s start.

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding (DoR)

The “division of responsibility” or “DoR” is a feeding approach developed by Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and feeding guru, and it can be summed up like this.

Parents have their own roles and responsibilities when it comes to feeding. Children have their own role and responsibility when it comes to eating. And when we do a good job feeding, our kids can do a good job eating. 

feeding picky eater

The Parent’s Role:

  • Choose what food is being served 
    • So for each and every meal and snack, you are choosing what is being served 
  • Choose when food (meals and snacks) are being served.
    • You are choosing set times based on an appropriate feeding schedule for your child.
  • Choose where food is being served. 
    • Usually and hopefully most times it’s at the dinner table, but wherever it is, it’s a decision that comes from you. 

Overall, our job as parents is to serve our toddlers balanced meals at structured times throughout the day, preferably in a family meal setting. We aim to make mealtimes pleasant, show by example how to behave at family mealtimes, be considerate to our child’s lack of food experience without catering, and let our child grow into a body that’s right for them. 

The Child’s Role (1 year and up):

  • Choose if they want to eat (from the food you’ve provided for them). It’s their prerogative completely.
  • Choose how much they want to eat. Whether it be a little or a lot, we’re handing over this control to them. It’s their right to be able to choose that. 

Note: Under 1 year of age, parents are responsible for what (i.e. breastmilk or formula, along with solids when developmentally ready) and the baby is responsible for when, if and how much they eat. As parents, we create an organized and calm environment and routine, yet respond to our baby’s cues for timing, frequency and amount – this is in their realm. 

The Trust Cycle

Although sometimes it’s really difficult to implement this philosophy, this is where the trust comes in. Being able to fully trust our toddlers to choose if and how much to eat based on what their body needs from the food we provide them is critical to this all working out. This will equip your toddler to listen to his/her intrinsic cues for hunger and fullness while also empowering them to learn to eat the foods you eat. It removes any pressure for them to eat certain types of amounts of food, which can backfire.

At the same time, they can trust us to provide structure and regular meals and snacks at set times in a confident manner. They don’t have to ask for snacks all the time because they know that you have a schedule for them. They will want to explore food on their own because they trust you will make it a positive, pressure free experience. They trust in your ability to maintain safe and predictable boundaries in feeding, which removes the need for them to act out in defiance, to test boundaries and push limits to understand where they are.

This trust cycle is everything!

Often when there’s problems in feeding/eating, it’s a result of a mixup in our roles. It’s a result of a lack of trust and boundaries being crossed. This is where much of the mealtime battles start. 

If you find yourself in a struggle, dealing with constant snacking, making special meals, maybe in a dinner time argument with your toddler, or you find your anxiety levels around mealtimes start to rise, I want you to stop and ask yourself…

“Am I doing my job in feeding?”
“Is my toddler doing theirs?

In other words…

Have I served a meal that I deem to be fit (not based on my toddlers special requests or refusals)?

Have I served it based on routine timing (not based on my toddlers demands to eat)?

Have I chosen where it’s being served? (vs. letting my toddler choose to eat where they want, on their own, while playing etc.)?

If so….congratulations! You just successfully fed your child and your job is done! 

Now whatever happens after that is totally your child’s job!

Your job is not to get your child to eat x,y, or z. Not in specific amounts…not at all. 

That’s their job! 

You provide the environment and structure and modelling and yes…can implement techniques and strategies behind the scenes (see my Feeding Toddlers online course for a full roadmap on that)….and they will learn within that beautiful environment you’ve set up for them.

Mealtimes should never be a battlefield. When our toddlers resist us at mealtimes, it isn’t a sign that they’re ungrateful, cruel or manipulative. Rather, it is a reflection of their innate need to test our leadership. When we’re confident in our decisions around our roles and firm about not giving those roles up, they become more confident in our ability to lead them and won’t test us so much. It also means that food can’t be used as a way to get our attention or create drama… when they know how much or what they eat isn’t an issue to us anymore…it takes away that power. 

When you get this right, and it usually only takes a couple weeks or so if doing this right…the stress will melt away. Then, you can focus on the actual joy of eating together! And then you will see them progress with eating, and any picky eating strategies you implement can actually start to work because the foundation for a trusting feeding relationship is in place. 

I know there are always a million questions around how to implement DoR properly and “what to do when…” scenarios. Things like…

“But my child won’t eat unless I make a favourite food!?”

“What if my child never chooses to eat a vegetable on their own?!”

“What if my child is underweight/overweight?!”

I also know you likely want to know what all those picky eating strategies likely are. I’ve got help & solutions for you all inside my Feeding Toddlers online course. Please know that this course is your complete roadmap with support from me (your registered dietitian!) to completely transform mealtimes and give you all the skills you need to prevent/manage picky eating and raise a healthy eater.

Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram for daily tips, strategies and discussions around this topic and all topics related to baby/toddler feeding. I’m so confident that this foundational approach makes sense in every feeding scenario, that I want you to try this and ask me as many questions as you can in the process. It will take patience and perhaps a bit of discipline breaking old habits, but I know you can do it and I believe in the results!

Much love and happy eating!

edwenakennedy