The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

What is the Division of Responsibility in Feeding? 

The Division of Responsibility model, created by Ellyn Satter, is a feeding method that is used to encourage children to trust and use their natural hunger cues and instincts when eating (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015). This approach gives responsibilities to the parent and the child: parents decide what food is served, when it’s served, and where their child will eat the food; children decide how much they want to eat and whether they will eat the food (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015).  

What are the benefits of using this method? 

Mealtimes can be different for every family, but this approach can be incorporated into any family mealtime – breakfast, snack, dinner. When using this method, parents allow their child to make decisions, which can be a positive experience regardless of the child’s age. In addition, family meals can influence a child’s food-related behaviors. For example, when families share a higher frequency of family meals, research indicates that family members’ fruit and vegetable consumption increases and fried foods and soft drinks consumption decreases (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2003). When parents provide healthy food options for their families, children begin to learn life-long, healthy eating behaviors.  

Family meals also provide a time for bonding that allows children to connect with individual family members and for the family to connect. Regularly scheduled meals can manage children’s expectations around food and can help children feel safe, loved, and secure. 

How can I start to implement this method? 

Children are still exploring their senses, including their sense of taste, and feeding times provide an opportunity to instill healthy feeding habits that could last a lifetime. When beginning to implement this method, offer new foods along with foods that you know your child will like and eat. In other words, the child is given choices but within limits. 

As a parent, you should offer a variety of healthy foods at regularly scheduled times and at a table (or location) where there are no distractions, like televisions or screens. Let children decide which of the offered foods they would like to eat. Start with small portions, and permit children to eat more if they say they’re still hungry or to stop eating if they say they are full. This removes the pressure you may feel to control your child’s eating, and it benefits children because they learn to pay attention to their internal signals of hunger and fullness. 

As your child gets older, they may become more vocal about what they want to eat during meals and snacks. Try to provide opportunities for them to help make decisions regarding what your family is eating or what they may have as a snack. For example, allow your child to help you plan a weekly menu, or, depending on their age, have them be the chef for the night. Remember, it is important for your child to start making decisions, but it is equally important for you to trust your child to make decisions for themselves and for you to be okay with the decisions they make. 

Tips for eating and mealtime (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015): 

  • Talk to your child when they say they are full. Allow them to recognize when they are no longer hungry to help them learn to listen to internal cues of fullness. 
  • Serve as a role model and set good examples for healthy eating behaviors by offering and eating a variety of healthy foods. 
  • Eat meals regularly with your child. 
  • Offer your child healthy choices, for example “Do you want a banana or yogurt?,” to give your child the opportunity to decide between two healthy options. 
  • Remember, it can take up to 10 or more times for a child to be introduced to a food before they will try it. 

Keep in mind, you and your child have responsibilities when it comes to feeding and eating. This can help the entire family create a positive relationship with food. As your child grows and learns how to trust their own body cues, they will be able to understand what they need and make healthy choices on their own. 

References

Ellyn Satter Institute. (2022). Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed: Follow the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/

Ellyn Satter Institute. (2015). Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ELLYN-SATTER%E2%80%99S-DIVISION-OF-RESPONSIBILITY-IN-FEEDING.pdf 

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P. J., Story, M., Croll, J., & Perry, C. (2003). Family meal patterns: Associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 103(317). https://doi.org/10.1053/jada.2003.50048  

 Thrive. (2017). Grow parenting program. https://thrive.psu.edu/universal-parenting-programs/grow/ 

 Thrive. (2018). Sprout parenting program. https://thrive.psu.edu/universal-parenting- programs/sprout/    

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