My friends know I have fairly strong feelings about how I feed my children. Because I work with people with eating disorders, I strive to create a food environment at my house that’s free of moralistic messages about food or overt pressure to eat or not eat. I know that eating
disorders are not caused by how parents feed their children. Genetics and temperament play a huge role. However, we do know that environment in and out of the home is a factor. Also, as a nutrition professional, I have read the research about family feeding and it’s clear to me what “works.”
When I say “works,” I like to step back and think about what our goals are regarding feeding as parents. For me, I’d like my children to grow up to be what Ellyn Satter calls “competent eaters.” Ellyn Satter is a guru in my profession. She is a dietitian and family therapist. She has devoted her career to researching and training health professionals about family feeding. I use her model of feeding in my professional and personal lives. I want my children to continue to listen to their bodies regarding how much and what they eat. I’d like for them to eat a variety of food or at least be able to “make do” when they go to a friend’s house for a meal or eventually when they go off to college or move out of the house. I want them to be able to eat to nourish their mind and body. We know that Satter’s Feeding Dynamics model is a structure to help children grow up to be able to eat and feed themselves well.
The Satter Feeding Dynamics model includes the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. In short, this model outlines that there are parents’ jobs and childrens’ jobs. The parents’ jobs are to decide what, when and where while the children’s jobs are to decide if and how much. Using this model takes a big amount of pressure off the parents and, thus, off of the children. It’s not my job to “get my kids to eat.” It’s my job to provide balanced meals and sit down snacks at regular times. I decide that for supper I’m serving chicken, potatoes and green beans (the “what”). We are going to eat it around 6:00 (when) and we’re going to sit at the table (where). Once I’ve done my jobs I can take a deep breath and allow my children to do their jobs. They get to decide “if” they are going to eat each item and “how much.” It’s not about getting them to eat the green beans at this meal, but it’s about them growing up to eat a variety foods.
I have three children with three very different personalities. Our own personalities are displayed in how we eat. That makes sense, right? Our personalities affect all we do. My oldest, Miriam is 11 year old, very outgoing and is game to try any new adventure. She also has always eaten a variety of foods. My son, Isaac is 7 and is more cautious about new things. He is more picky in his eating although I see small changes as he becomes older and we continue to offer him a variety of foods. My youngest, Vivian, is 2. She has a very strong personality. She’s in the developmental stage that is the most picky. She’s pretty skeptical of new foods and definitely does not react well if anyone puts pressure on her to eat a certain item. This picture shows her eating a black olive. This was definitely her idea to eat it, although it was presented to her as part of pizza night.
This philosophy is certainly different from the mainstream culture. There does seem to be a message that it is the parent’s job to get their children to eat and to get their children to weigh a certain amount. I believe these messages are rooted in diet culture which has no place in raising children or for anyone really. I look forward to writing about my adventures in feeding my family. It’s not always pretty or perfect or “successful.” However, I focus on the fact that we’re in this for “the long haul.” It’s not about this meal or day, it’s about them growing up to eat well and trust themselves. I know from this work that I have to model that I trust them and their bodies, so that they can in turn trust themselves.