5 Reasons Why I Love Ellyn Satter's Family-Style Feeding and Eating

Paloma versus The Cherries
A while back, I posted on my personal Facebook account how I had had a great encounter with a nanny at the park. What she told me about was a wonderful way to approach feeding children. Her ideas were based on Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility, which is essentially family-style eating. It's not that her ideas are revolutionary or novel. Family-style eating has been around forever and is practiced all over the world. So why was it so hard for me to feed my family this way?

Hunter has always been on the lower end of the growth charts, but for a while in never bothered me too much because he would always eat what I put in front of him. Bacon, sweet potato, and bell pepper hash? More please! Lentils, steak, crispy kale -- you name it, he ate it. Sure, it crossed my mind to give him half & half to drink instead of whole milk so he would put on some more weight, but I never did it because I trusted his body was perfect and doing the growing it needed to do. Then, at some point Hunter got picky, and I stopped trusting him. Mealtime became an exercise in negotiation and bribery. "If you eat one more bite of this, then you can have that." "You can't have dessert until you eat what's on your plate." The dinner table became a battle ground.

With a lot of TRUST and a change in our attitudes, we've turned mealtime around for the better. Basically it works like this: 
  • The adults' responsibility is to decide whatwhen, and where. I choose a more or less healthy menu of 4-5 items and place them on the table with serving spoons so that family members serve themselves. Yup, it's simply family-style eating. (I was used to putting a little of everything on Hunter's plate and placing it in front of him. Sometimes he would eat it up, and other times I would nag him until he ate something.) Just be sure that at least one of the 4-5 foods is something you are certain the child will eat.
  • The children's responsibility is to decide whether or not to eat and how much. Hunter is allowed to eat as much or as little as he wants of all the items offered except dessert. (More on that later.) We refrain from making any comments surrounding how much or little he's eaten. Instead, we communicate that this is the time to fill our bellies so that we don't feel hungry anymore, which helps Hunter understand that we won't be taking special food requests or sneaking him a banana before bed if he is suddenly hungry. 
Here is why I LOVE it!

1. No more negotiating with a 3-year-old. In the weeks since we've implemented the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, mealtime is more peaceful and enjoyable. (Well, as much as it can be with a 3-year-old, but there is definitely no more battling.) I used to over-exaggerate how delicious asparagus was or try to entice him to eat it by saying later he would find out how it makes his pee smell funny. If he doesn't eat the asparagus, oh well. I trust he will get the nutrients he needs from the other foods on offer. 

2. We eat more dessert! Dessert is actually one of the 4-5 items, so it is served at the same time as the rest of the food. The reason behind this idea is to prevent sweets from becoming "forbidden foods" that kids will binge eat the minute they are away from their parents. The only thing is that the serving size is limited to one portion per person. One night Hunter put his two cookies on the plate next to the burrito he had assembled from our burrito bar items (avocado, tomatoes, black beans, cheese, and sour cream). He ate one cookie, then the whole burrito, then the other cookie. The other night he took one bite of brownie and then didn't want anymore. It really works!!!

3. We nurture positive associations with food. One food is not better than another. We don't praise vegetables and talk crap about sugary foods. We are honest and say that all the foods on the table will help us grow strong, not just the green vegetables. We discuss how eating too many sugary foods might make us sick or tired, but we do like them and it's OK to have them. We allow Hunter to eat until satiated so he's not over-eating or left hungry. This freedom teaches him to listen to his hunger cues and teaches us to trust him. One night all he ate was a bunch of grapes. He didn't want to eat anything else, just grapes, so he ate grapes until he was full. We bit our tongues, and everyone was all the better for it. I mean it's grapes not M&Ms, you know?

4. It's EASY and intuitive. I basically take the main dish that I plan to cook that night and put it in a serving bowl or dish. Then I put out a green salad, sliced cucumber, celery sticks or sugar snap peas with some ranch. Then I cut up some fruit, and put that in a bowl. Then a put out a bonus dish like pickles & olives or some other cooked vegetable like potatoes or broccoli. If it's a main dish that Hunter loves (like chicken salad or lentils or burritos), I will set out dessert. 

5. I don't worry about making "kid-friendly" foods. In other words, if I want to try a new recipe, I'll do it. At best, Hunter will be adventurous and try something new. At worst he will eat a dinner of cucumbers dipped in ranch and apple slices.

Try this approach for a week and let me know how it goes!!

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