The Speech Therapy team shares some pointers on mealtimes and eating.
Did you know that encouraging your child to eat and worrying about what your child is eating (or not eating!) can actually lead to more picky eating? It’s natural for parents to be concerned about what and how much their child is eating, but this can make mealtimes stressful for you and your child. Let’s talk a little more about why this approach can hinder your child at mealtimes.
Imagine you are having lunch with a friend at a new restaurant, trying a new cuisine that is foreign to you. As you sit down at the table and start to look over the menu, you don’t see any foods you recognize. You are a little apprehensive about the smells in the restaurant and the appearance of the plates at nearby tables. You are hungry, but this is all so foreign to you, and you wish you recognized at least something on the menu. Meanwhile, your friend is familiar with this cuisine and seems super excited. You reluctantly order something. When the food arrives, you look over your plate cautiously. Your friend waits and watches you, ready for you to try your food. “Go ahead, take a bite!” your friend says anxiously, staring at you and waiting. Your friend picks up a spoon, scoops up some of the food for you, and hands the spoon to you. After you slowly take a taste, your friend immediately responds, “Wow, you did it! You took a bite! What do you think? Do you like it?” You sink into your chair, wishing you could box up your leftovers and try this food at home by yourself, with no one pressuring you or shoving food in your face.
This may sound like a silly scenario, but this can give us a glimpse into how mealtimes can feel for our children!
Ellyn Satter, a nutritionist, family therapist, and author, developed a helpful model called the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding. As a parent, you get to decide what, when, and where your child eats. Your child, on the other hand, gets to determine how much and whether to eat the food you provide. This model is helpful in separating responsibilities for mealtimes, regardless of your child’s age, and can also help ease some of your mealtime worries as a parent. In addition, it helps your child learn to listen to his/her own internal cues at mealtimes and you as the parent to respect their personal experience.
Exposure and variety is still important – and you can still have control of those aspects of the meal, since you as the parent determine what your child has as options at mealtimes. It is ideal to include at least one food you know your child enjoys, but feel free to also add some adventurous or less familiar foods to your child’s plate. But, remember, your child gets to decide if he/she eats those foods! Even just seeing a new food on the plate, picking it up, and/or smelling it in one’s forward space are good ways to learn about a new food. Your child may take one of these steps, eventually, in his or her own time, and when his or her body is ready.
For more information on The Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding, please visit: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/
If you have concerns about your child’s food repertoire or feeding skills related to chewing, swallowing, or drinking, please reach out to us to schedule a feeding screening or feeding evaluation. We would be happy to help!