This week a local parenting home visiting program invited me to present a short program on feeding infants and toddlers to a group of teen parents. The topics requested included“picky” eaters and family meal times. I was asked to keep the program short and to the point. I decided to turn to a trusted resource for feeding young children. I first became aware of Ellen Satter’s work through my involvement in the Head Start Programs years ago. What I like about her research, is that she translates it into simple terms that parents and childcare providers can easily understand and apply.
Questions parents ask around feeding younger children include:
How often should I feed my child?
Am I feeding my child enough?
Am I feeding my child too much?
What should I do about my picky eater?
Begin with the Division of Responsibilities:
Satter explains the parent is responsible for what, when and where, and the child is responsible for how much and whether they choose to eat. According to Satter, “Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat from what parents provide. When parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating: – See more at The Ellyn Satter Institute
What about picky eaters?
If parents are consistent with the division of responsibilities, over time, their children will become well-adjusted eaters. Ellyn Satter says that most children are more or less picky eaters. Their likes and dislikes can vary from day to day, and it may take time to warm up to unfamiliar foods. Parents may need to introduce a new food 15 times or more before a child is willing to try it. A suggestion offered by Satter is to be sure to offer other options with a meal that are familiar to the child, but not to offer alternatives. If there is something served with the regular meal that the child can eat, the parent is the one responsible. Let the child pick-and-choose from what is already on the table. The goal is to keep meals positive without putting pressure on the child to eat. Keep in mind that you should also try to stick to consistent meal and snack times, offering only water between these structured times.
Will snacks spoil the child’s meal?
Growing children need snacks, as their stomach capacity is small and limited. They need meals that are more frequent. According to Satter,
Here is what to keep in mind about snacks:
Sit to snack, don’t allow yourself or your child to eat on the run or eat along with other activities.
Have snacks be sustaining: Include 2 or 3 foods. Include protein, fat, and carbohydrate.
Time snacks between meals so that your child will be hungry at the next mealtime.
Use snack time to work in foods you didn’t get otherwise, such as vegetables