142: Division of Responsibility with Ellyn Satter
- Should we worry about our child’s eating in the long term if they won’t eat vegetables now?
- Should we restrict access to children’s food?
- What should we do about picky eating?
Do you agree or disagree with these statements?
- I enjoy food and
- I am comfortable with my enjoyment of food and
- I take an interest in unfamiliar food.
- I eat as much as I am hungry for.
- I plan for feeding myself.
Agreeing with these statements indicates you are likely Eating Competent. Disagreeing means you are missing out on eating as one of life’s great pleasures and putting up with a lot of unnecessary misery. Do you have to be miserable to eat well and be healthy? Not at all. People who are Eating Competent eat better and are healthier: they weigh less, have better medical tests, and function better, emotionally and socially.
Ellyn Satter’s Books:
Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook
How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much (Affiliate links).
Chang, S. (2019, December 4). Back to basics: All about MyPlate food groups. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/09/26/back-basics-all-about-myplate-food-groups
Cooke, L.J., Wardle, J., Gibson, E.L., Sapochnik, M., Sheiham, A., & Lawson, M. (2003). Demographic, familial and trait predictors of fruit and vegetable consumption by pre-school children. Public Health Nutrition 7(2), 295-302.
Curtin, S.C. (2019). Trends in cancer and heart disease death rates among adults aged 45-64: United States 1999-2017. National Vital Statistics Reports 68(5), 1-9. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_05-508.pdf
Fayet-Moore, F., McConnell, A., Cassettari, T., Tuck, K., Petocz, P., & Kim, J. (2019). Vegetable intake in Australian children and adolescents: The importance of consumption frequency, eating occasion and its association with dietary and sociodemographic factors. Public Health Nutrition 23(3), 474-487.
Fryar, C.D., Carroll, M.D., & Attful, J. (2020). Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960-1962 through 2017-2018. National Center for Health Statistics https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity-adult-17-18/overweight-obesity-adults-H.pdf
Jones, B.L. (2018). Making time for family meals: Parental influences, home eating environments, barriers and protective factors. Physiology & Behavior 193, 248-251.
Larson, N., & Story, M. (2013). A review of snacking patterns among children and adolescents: What are the implications of snacking for weight status? Childhood obesity 9(2), 104-115.
Satter, E. (2007). Hierarchy of food needs. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 39(5), S187-S188.
Satter, E. (2007). Eating competence: Definition and evidence for the Satter Eating Competence Model. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 39(5), S142-S153.
Satter, E.M. (1986). The feeding relationship. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 86, 352-356.
Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives. But it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you'd like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a free guide called 13 reasons why your child won't listen to you and what to do about each one, just head over to yourparenting mojo.com/subscribe. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you'll join us.Jen Lumanlan:
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. And today we're continuing our series of episodes on the intersection of parenting and food. And we're here for a conversation today with none other than Ellyn Satter. In the online parenting communities that I'm in, eating questions come up all the time—children refusing meals, children only eating 10 foods, they want snacks all the time, they're waking up in the middle of the night because they're hungry. And each time one of these posts comes up, you can bet that within the first 10 comments, somebody's going to answer—Ellyn Satter, Division of Responsibility as if there is nothing else to say about the subject. And so I've used division of responsibility quite a bit with my own daughter and I would say we don't have significant challenges related to eating but there have always been parts of it that I haven't fully understood. Like, can we really relax around vegetables as much as DOR says we can? And what if we're pretty sure that our child would not stop eating cookies if we were to allow them an unlimited supply at snack time? And what happens if they just go to the pantry and help themselves? So Ellyn is a nutritionist; family therapist, she's an author, a trainer, a publisher, and a consultant. During her 40-year clinical career, she worked first as a registered dietitian in an outpatient medical practice. And then as a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in family-based treatment of eating disorders. Her first book was Child of Mind Feeding with Love and Good Sense and has been followed by a variety of others on various aspects of feeding children over the years. Welcome, Ellen. It's such a privilege to have you here.Ellyn Satter:
Well, thank you, Jen. It’s fun to be here with you.Jen Lumanlan:
And so I should note that we're going to very briefly start by describing what division of responsibility or DLR is, but because this is such a popular and well-known approach, we're really going to spend most of our time in the nitty gritty questions that parents who have read the book already and still are struggling with some aspects of implementing it have. So Ellyn, I wonder if you could kick us off maybe just with a brief introduction to what is division of responsibility so we're all starting on the same foot, and then we can dive deeper from there.Ellyn Satter:
Thank you. Thank you so much. Yes, the division is the sadder division of responsibility in feeding, care after known as SDOR—Satter Division Of Responsibility. If you're Googling it—do division of responsibility and feeding, and it is going to bring it up. And now bring you to a lot of resources that you can use. But it sounds like this group of people is not resource-poor, in fact, your resource is rich. the division of responsibility and feeding for toddlers on up through the adolescent years is that parents do the ‘what’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ of feeding. And children do that how much and whether of eating—that means that parents are in control of the menu, the timing. The parents are the ones that determine when and where the snacks, and meals, and sit-down snacks are going to be. They're the ones who make mealtimes pleasant for children, first of all, by being there themselves and sharing the same food as with their children. And also, by taking interest in kids and avoiding negative topics and so on just making it a pleasant family place to be. And then once parents have eaten, and enjoyed their own food, that's a biggie, and choose food that they enjoy putting on the table. Food that they themselves find richly rewarding to shop or prepare and eat. And after that is up to the children and then the parents’ very important task is to turn over to the child the decision of what to eat from what the parents have put on the table or at the meal if the table was a blanket on the floor, that's fine, too. Children get to choose what to eat from what parents have provided for them, they get to decide what they don't decide as a bad word they got to determine because it's not a cognitive thing, it's instinctive. Children get to determine how much to eat of what is put in front of them. And as they learn and grow and know, they get to enjoy being there with their parents and the rest of the family. So the parent does the what, when and where and the child does the how much, and whether and it elaborates from there. And Jen, I have an idea that you're going to ask me questions, so let me elaborate. So I'll stop talking and invite you into the act.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. I think a lot of parents, even the ones who are hearing this for the first time are thinking, “Yes. Yes. I want that.” And so let's get into what are some of the ways that parents can start to struggle with this. And I know that children's health is one thing that parents are very concerned about their health now, and also their health in the future. And the impression that I get from reading your books, both child of mine and your other books as well is that you're not so worried about this. And I think what it comes down to for a lot of parents is around food selection, and you specifically say, “ET Satter is based on the principle that internal cues of hunger appetite and satiety if properly attended to are reliable, and can be depended on to inform food selection, guide, energy balance, and body weight.” And so, you know, I, talked to my daughter recently, and she said, “You know, what would make every food better?” and I said, “What?” and she said, “Five pounds of sugar.” And so how do we get from that kind of conversation to this, you know, informing food selection where a child is taking on more and more of this responsibility?Ellyn Satter:
Well, Jen, how old is your daughter?Jen Lumanlan:
She is about to turn seven.Ellyn Satter:
Yeah, that's great. What a confiding idea. Okay, well, you know, it all comes back to the principle that children will learn to eat the food that their parents eat—the food their parents enjoy. Now, if parents are putting vegetables on the table because they enjoy the vegetables if they're preparing them in ways that they genuinely enjoy eating them, that sooner or later, children are going to eat those vegetables that parents enjoy. Now, the big caveat is sooner or later, because you have some kids, well, kids have three different ways of learning to like unfamiliar food. So one way that we all dream about and that I think every child should be this way, but they're not is that they take an interest in unfamiliar food, and they'll very willingly try it. They might not eat it right at first, but you know, they're very receptive. And I had a child like that, and he was a delight. He just was so much fun to feed because he says, “What’s that? Let me try it.” And then you have the type who's a little bit skeptical, you know, slow to warm up, it's like, “What is this?” And you know, if you're very careful, and you know, sometimes you can get away with saying to a child like that, “Well try it, you might like it,” or, you know, the routine goes, “What is that? I don't like it.” And then you say, “Well, you know, you try it, you might like it,” but you have to take no for an answer because if you don't, then that's pressure and he for sure isn't going to try it. So maybe he'll try it. Maybe he won't. And then after he tries six or eight or 23 times—he’s familiar, and he enjoys it. And he said voluntarily but not always. One of my kids went cold turkey on orange juice. He loved orange juice and when he was 18 months old, he stopped drinking orange juice. We say, “Why aren’t you drinking your orange juice?” Well, orange juice was just off his screen, he didn't want orange juice anymore, so go figure out why kids do this. They are so absolutely erratic. So when we say a child enjoys food, that means that he might eat at some if not the majority of the time, so it shows up on the table. Then you have the other type of child who absolutely does not eat food for years and years and years and years, even though it's on the table.
When my skeptical child was 11, he picked up the bowl of tabbouleh and he said, “Well, I think it's time for me to try this.” 11! I and my colleagues the people we communicate with on Facebook, they use numbers like 23, you know my child was 23 and blocker. The ASI president says her son start eating vegetables when he was 23, and he said, “I just don't know why I just hadn't been exposed to these before.” His mother felt like killing him. It has to be his idea, you know, and it took that long. And parents tell the story that one day the child puts broccoli on his plate and eats it and they just don't say a word, they just say, “Oh, did you see that?” And so the parents really have the deck stacked against them because children give every evidence of not doing a decent job of eating, but in reality, they're very tuned in to their hunger and fullness. They're very tuned down to their appetite. In fact, I think their tastebuds are so sensitive that we can't even imagine. And so for them to gradually learn to eat a food is something that is just natural for them. They also tire of even favorite food and eat a variety. And so even though they seemingly ate the same thing all the time, all the time, you know, the 10 favorite foods, that as long as nobody's pressuring them to eat a certain food or eat their vegetables before they can have this or that, eventually, they're going to tire of that preferred food and go looking for variety.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. I wonder if we can pause there because I am guessing there are a number of parents listening right now who are thinking my kids have been eating pretty much nothing but chicken nuggets and white bread for maybe three years now. Are we waiting until they're 23 for some shift to occur?Ellyn Satter:
Well, this parent is making an error in feeding, because you know, in the family menu, chicken nuggets are simply not going to show up at every meal. And so this parent is limiting the menu to foods a child readily accepts. And so how do you find the middle ground because you can't traumatize a child with a sadistic menu where everything is unfamiliar, but neither should you as restrict the menu to only familiar foods and so the happy compromise is to be considerate without catering. That is chicken nugget shows up occasionally, the child gets lucky his favorite food is there. The bread is there every time you know that you have one food on the table that the child readily accepts and generally eats and gives every appearance of enjoy. So one or two dishes might oftentimes at start starchy food that the child can enjoy like bread or rice or noodles or potatoes or you know, some kind of starchy food. Many children, I think fruit is on that list too, although it does it amazes me that some children seem to subsist on fruit for a long time and we'll have anything else but you know, I'd put food on the table. If it's too expensive, then the parent can sort of limit the fruits so everybody gets their share, and then it's over and then has that readily available food be a starchy food which is generally less expensive. And so you provide a variety of food main dish, a fruit or vegetable or both, a starchy food, or two, or three, and milk. And then you know, whatever passes for bread, every culture has a brand, you know, the Asian bread is rice, and then you let the child pick and choose even if he only eats bread.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, and there's the thing, right? Even if they only eat bread. Because I'm serving a balanced meal, but the child just eating bread. How do we get from a child just eating bread to beyond that?Ellyn Satter:
You trust the child. You trust that the child eventually will get around to eating something, in addition to bread. But the child will tire of even these favorite foods and go seeking an alternative. And you know, nobody said that division of responsibility was easy. It sounds easy, but it's not easy. And where it gets hard is where you have to have this steady nerve and a leap of faith that says if you're doing your job as a parent, then you know over time, your child will learn to eat a variety of foods. In the short run, your child will eat as much as he or she needs in order to grow consistently. In the long run, the child will learn to eat as wide a variety of food as you eat that you enjoy. And joy—that is the big clinker now, if you're forcing yourself to eat broccoli because it's good for you, your child isn't going to learn to eat broccoli. You better put some cheese sauce on that broccoli, so you can enjoy it. And then your child will too.Jen Lumanlan:
And I think that enjoyment is so critical. And I think I was reading I can't remember it was in your book or somebody else's where they were talking about the development of wording around nutrition standards, and the word was going to be ‘enjoy’ a certain amount of and somebody said, “Oh, no, we can't do that. We can't imply that people are actually enjoying eating. You need a certain amount of.”Ellyn Satter:
That's right. Yeah, I think, well, I'm sure many people have commented on that. I remember writing that in secrets of feeding. A healthy family that the committee just decided that using the word enjoy would be giving license to this wild abandon with eating. And who knew where things would go.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, okay. And so I want to bring this back to the idea of health because you have written in the child of mind, depending on the survey you consult children get anywhere from 75, to almost 100% of their minimum of fruits and vegetables. And that's sort of contrary to the evidence that I've been able to find from a number of other countries. And so I think if children were getting that, like, if I could see a child getting that amount of vegetables, I'd be like, “Yeah, this is great. I'm doing this,” but I'm seeing a disconnect between what these bodies that are supposed to be looking out for our health are telling us to eat and what a child who is eating bread for dinner every night is actually eating? How do we bridge that gap?Ellyn Satter:
Yeah, well, Jen, that's like saying, “If I knew my child was going to graduate from MIT, then I wouldn't be so worried about his math scores.” And so you know, you just really can't, you can't know. You have to trust and you have to do your jobs and then trust. And so it depends on what study you're reading. And there's a difference between dietary quality and nutritional adequacy. Nutritional adequacy is a real thing, It is children getting the protein, that calories, the fat, the vitamins, and minerals they need in order to be healthy and grow properly. And that is actually rather a low number. It’s like five fruits and vegetables as child-size servings, everything counts, even though much-maligned potatoes, even if they're even more maligned french fries, and so everything counts. And then dietary quality is what is defined by the dietary guidelines. And that's where you get into six or eight servings a day of fruits and vegetables, and when the articles come out, and they say that children are doing poorly in terms of dietary quality that's what that means that they're not managing to get eat as much as these inflated recommendations say that they're going to eat.
But in terms of satisfying their nutritional needs, children actually do quite well. And you know, we could do the battling references where we sort of bring one reference in and then the other one, it says this one says, and that one says. I have a couple of references from Ann Haynes with same study, nutritional health, and National Health and Nutrition examination survey, I believe it is. It happens every five years or so in this huge number of people of adults and children are surveyed in terms of the nutritional quality of their adequacy of their diet, what they're eating, and how they're doing nutritionally. One author says, It takes the data and says children are doing really poorly based on nutritional quality. And then another one says they're actually doing quite well, in terms of nutritional quality. So yeah, but you know, every dietitian who has worked with children in any detail, particularly toddlers, who are the ultimate of erratic with respect to their eating, does a week-long 24-hour recall on these kids, and does a nutrition calculation. And is just amazed at the overall nutritional adequacy of this child's diet. And you know, they're eating a finger full of this by the that, you know, a whole bunch of something else, and when you put it all together, they actually do quite well. But I can see why parents are so alarmed because these kids don't go near or a vegetable for years and years, they don't go near fruit. And some meals, they eat hardly anything at all. I just visited my granddaughter or my grandchildren and we went out for hot dogs, you know that we had to go to the famous coney dog place, and my little granddaughter had three coney dogs. And she's a little skinny thing. And another meal, she doesn't eat anything at all, and so, you know, it's amazing how they do that. I think if you trust and let yourself be amazed, you're much better off than then if you have an agenda for trying to get things to turn out a certain way. But challenge me again, am I being too general? Do you want more specific?Jen Lumanlan:
I think the idea of balancing dietary quality and nutritional quality. And that's the first time I've heard those two things framed in that way. And that one of the sort of dietary quality is kind of a like, why do we even have those guidelines if the nutritional quality is adequate and children are getting what they need?Ellyn Satter:
Well, presumably, a nutritional adequacy is vitamins, minerals, and so on overall nutritional health and well-being growth, supporting growth, and so on. Now, nutritional quality, presumably, says, it concerns itself with disease prevention. And this is kind of a bugaboo that's been around since the 70s, where the dietary guidelines was first published, and people nutritionists presume to know how we were supposed to eat in order not to get heart disease, and cancer, and diabetes. And so it's degenerative avoidance of degenerative disease. So you have this on the one hand, and you have nutritional quality on the other, or you have nutritional adequacy on the other. And so avoidance of degenerative disease is a real moving target, it really has not been panned down, and it hasn't been proven that eating inflated amounts, of fruits and vegetables is really going to do the trick. That there is the only thing that is really solid is trans fats, avoidance of trans fats. But you know, we really don't know how to eat in order to prevent degenerative disease. And so, you know, I would say it's not worth spoiling your nutritional life in order to chase it because it's very elusive. It's very hard to figure out how you're supposed to do that. But there was another point that went flooding through my mind. Degenerative disease. So that anyway, it'll come back to me the two different concepts then.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. And so that speaks to kind of long-term health, but I'm also thinking about short-term health, and, you know, maybe consumption of large amounts of sugar in the short term, or eating a lot of foods that is potentially going to lead to obesity. And I know, we're actually going to do a whole episode on teasing that apart so we don't need to go in depth on that. But I'm just sort of trying to get my head around this idea of completely trusting the child within the parameters of the food that you are serving, that they are going to eat what they need for adequate nutritional quality, and the right amount of food that they're not, you know, they're going to be within a range that is ‘healthy’ because we don't seem to have much of an idea what that means. How do we navigate that?Ellyn Satter:
Well, something we haven't talked about yet is eating competence. Eating competence is another Sattar creation, we have the stat or eating competence model and this is a whole theoretical construct that is tested by a validated test. SDOR is tested by a validated test and we find that when parents follow SDOR that children have a lower nutritional risk. Now the test is very new, so we haven't yet determined that when or proven that when parents follow SDOR children grow best. Clinically we absolutely know it. You know if children are growing all over the place, we look at feeding parents are crossing the lines of division of responsibility, we established SDOR children grow consistently. So clinically, we know it but clinical research is clinical observation, so I suspect. But back to ecSatter we know the eating competence model is made up of positive attitudes about eating; adults, parents who feel good about eating, who take an interest in unfamiliar food, take an interest, don't force themselves to eat a variety of food but its attitude is not like I have to eat the right food and avoid the wrong food is attitude, taking an interest, enjoying, experimenting with food. Regulating food intake based on internal cues of hunger, appetite, and satiety and managing the eating context, which means having structure; regular meals, being reliable about feeding oneself, and making a plan for seeing to it that you get to eat. This is eating competence. And there is a test, there's a test like, I feel like it's okay to enjoy my food, I eat as much as I'm hungry for, I take time to feed myself as these are the questions on the test nothing about eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong foods. And so parents then who score high on the ECSI, on the eating competence inventory do better, they do better across the board, they do better nutritionally, they get the nutrients they need, they do better in terms of these parameters that are supposed to be correlated with disease avoidance, like more desirable blood lipids, lower blood cholesterol, lower blood sugar, and so on. They have the same or lower BMI as other people and they have higher nutritional quality. And that they were that's the artificial one that I was saying is correlated with disease avoidance. So if they're doing well on nutritional quality, you know, they're doing well on nutritional adequacy. Now, when parents are eating competent they do better with feeding their children, they're more likely to follow the division of responsibility in feeding, and their children have lower nutritional risk. So, you know, it really all comes back to that adult management of the feeding context. And so if parents are doing a good job with those family meals and enjoying them and themselves, you just know that children are going to be alright.Jen Lumanlan:
It's reminding me of so many other things in parenting, where it seems like the thing to fix is the child's behavior when actually, so much of it is about what happens in here and my experience and how I'm modeling that for my child.Ellyn Satter:
Well, you've definitely got it. And yes, and of course, that's such an unpopular point of view in today's world, as you say, we hear so much. We're made responsible for fixing our children. I mean, parents who have fat children are ashamed. I mean, some kids are just fat. And these parents just feel like they've caused it, and everybody's been critical of them. And it's the same thing in today's world: you are supposed to raise a child who leeches vegetables, and if you don't, shame on you. And so really, you do what you can and then you just have to let go of it.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah. And I know the answer to this from having read your books, but should a parent of a child who is fat be worried about their child's health today or their potential outcomes in the future?Ellyn Satter:
Well, the parent needs to know what kind of fatness the child is just natural for the child or is the child's weight accelerating, and that's how you tell the difference. So if you have any, you know, and some kids are just relatively fat, some grownups are relatively fat, and that's the way they are, they're perfectly healthy. And so if you look at a child's growth curve, and a A is growing, or they are growing consistently, along a particular percentile, even if it's a high percentile, you know, even above the diagnoseable cutoff. If that child is growing consistently, then that child is okay. And so then your job as a parent is to follow SDOR and avoid interference—not try to restrict your child, not try to get your child to be more active, not let the health professionals talk to your child about eating right or moving more, you know that there's so much interference in today's world with respect to how much children eat and what they weigh. And so but on the other hand, if your child has been growing along at a consistent level, and then suddenly that child diverges upward, then you need to get to the bottom of it because something has gone wrong, probably it might be that the child has some medical condition, It might be that there's a crisis in the family. But whatever the source of the problem, the division of responsibility is always going to be disrupted. And so when we do an assessment, you know, we see this pattern, we say, what has happened here, you know, what has happened with one little boy that I'm thinking of when he was an infant, and when he was, you know, up to about 12 to 14 months, he was growing very consistently 18 months is very consistent, and then he started going off his growth curve. And so the question was, you know, what happened? And the problem was that his mom had done a great job, his parents ate food on demand when he was little, and they followed his cues with introducing solid foods, but then when he got to be a toddler, he needed structure. And they continued to feed him on demand. They let him Graze for food, they let him you know, whatever he wanted, he got his food handouts, he panned the refrigerator door, and it got into the cupboards. And it simply overwhelmed his ability to regulate his food intake, and he ate too much. Now, nobody caught it, at that point that his growth had flipped upward, but his parents came to see me when he was four years old, and then his growth which you know had nudged up to be relatively high, but consistent is suddenly just went off his growth curve really fast. And the thing that had happened is that he, as an 18-month-old toddler, he had learned to eat for emotional reasons because if he got bored, or if he got angry or upset about anything, he got a food handout. And so rather than learning to tolerate his feelings in the absence of food, it was eyes connected with food. And so in when he was four years old, the family got into a serious crisis, the parents had a decision to make, and they just couldn't make it. And so the tension in the household went on and on and on. And that little kid, you know, like any child was a barometer for stress, and so he's soaked it right up. And his drive for food just became insatiable—he was continually panhandling for food, wanting food handouts, wanting to eat this and that, and he just gained a lot of weight. And as his mother said, “Well, she didn't like to tell him know about his food panhandling because she was afraid that he might not like her.” Then I thought, “Ooh, boy, this is not going to go well,” but I worked with them with the division of responsibility and she did great. And in fact, I think you had a comment about this on your script that you sent me that we worked over several weeks, and she was really getting it, you know, she was very creative about division of responsibility, and then she said, “Well, you know, we went to a picnic with a bunch of other families and all the food was out on the table and they call this to go and eat. And of course, the kids all lined up at the desserts.” I'm sure this never happens to you. And they all lined up at the desserts. And she said, “And those kids, you know, there were some brownies there that looked really good and that's what they went for,” and those kids were really going after those brownies, she said, “What should I do? What should I do when that happens?” And I said, “Well, what would you do if you weren't concerned about his weight?” And she said, “Well, I would have made them quit because I wanted some of those brownies and those kids were eating. Eating them all up,” and I thought, well, now there's a great answer, it's just common sense. And you know, and that's normal eating behavior that even if you are regularly offering sweets at snack, so your kids get over thinking of it as being such a big deal, and they get kind of ho-hum about eating sweets, even those kids will line up at the dessert table, and have that experience of simply being allowed to have dessert for dinner.Jen Lumanlan:
And that's okay, is what you're saying.Ellyn Satter:
Yeah, yeah. And I'm saying that's okay. It's all in a child's life.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, okay. All right. And so I think that example sort of takes us to the idea of restricting food. And I've definitely seen it in you have in one of your books, a series of graphs of these growth curves where you see the child you know, going along normally, and then either they go off and up or the parent decides you know what they're too high, and I'm going to pull it down, and then they're able to successfully lose weight. And then they just bounce right back up again.Ellyn Satter:
And get right back up again.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah. So even if we're not actively trying to get our child to lose weight, which it seems as though we should not be doing, we do control access to food, because we buy the food. And so you specifically tell us not to artificially run out of foods. But you know, I'm gonna buy two boxes of crackers for my daughter, the kind that she likes, because they're expensive. I'm not going to buy any more than that. Where's the line between this artificially running out of foods that you say we shouldn't do? And the restriction that you know, I could afford to buy a third box if I really wanted to but I don't want to buy a third box. How do we navigate that discrepancy?Ellyn Satter:
Well, that's a big subject. And so let me just start into it here. And say, when your child gets to be 11, or 12 years old, they're going to be out in the world. And there's going to be food available at friends’ houses, and at the corner store, and lots of places this food will be available. And so what are you going to have to do in the previous 11 years, in order for your child not to go off the deep end with buying all of these foods that you're concerned about? So how are you going to acclimate your child to these foods. And you certainly aren't going to just throw open the refrigerator door and let them have as much as they want of these foods whenever they want because that's going to spoil their nutritional quality of diet. But what you can do is incorporate these foods regularly at meals and snacks, in fact, say it takes the matter of sweet so you know, you've talked about crackers, which are pretty innocuous, but maybe not, we'll have find out more about those crackers in a minute.Jen Lumanlan:
They do have cranberries in them.Ellyn Satter:
Sort of like a cookie.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, It's straddling the line between a cookie and the cracker.Ellyn Satter:
Okay, so let's just malign you and say these are cookies. And so the way you help acclimate a child to sweets, so he doesn't go off the deep end age 11 with sweets, is to include dessert as part of the meal, but just a single serving of dessert. So you put everybody's dessert on the table when you set the table, and let everybody eat the dessert when they want to before, during, or after the meal. And then that's it, no more dessert, which violates the division of responsibility, right? And so you've also introduced scarcity because it's only one. And so you've got to neutralize the scarcity. And the way you do that is at periodic snack time that you put on a plate of a big plate more than the child can eat cookies, or whatever this desirable food is, and let the child eat as much as they want to. Cookies in Malka, it's actually quite a good snack. And you know, at first, the child will eat like there's no tomorrow and eat a lot of them, but if you can keep your nerve that and do this periodically, then over time the child will get so their ho-hum about sweets and they'll eat a couple and then they'll lose interest.
So the idea is to sort of neutralize that specialness, you know, the siren call of these high sugar, high-fat food, chips, french fries, you really don't have to limit them in the same way because they don't compete in the same way with the mealtime food. I mean, you put a plate of cookies on a mealtime, then that competes unfairly with the vegetables. But you know, a bowl of potato chips does not compete in the same way.Jen Lumanlan:
I work with some parents whose kids are more about salt and sugar and they say that their child would just eat the chips if there was an unlimited bowl of chips available.Ellyn Satter:
Well, you know, I guess maybe they will at first, you know if they found that the parent is more comfortable offering the chips at snack time as the treat food then that's fine. And so you know, it's a matter of anytime something becomes a forbidden food that is restrained. And if you've strained a child, then they're going to disinhibit at another time. They're going to eat a lot of it when your back is turned and feel bad about it. I mean, you know, I was talking about eating competence and feeling good about eating well, do you want your child to sneak around and eat food and then feel bad about it? I don't think so, you know, you want them to grow up to be eating competent the same as you are.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, for sure. And I think what I'm hearing is that a lot of this relies on us being the main provider of the food that our child eats. And, my mind goes to a listener in Germany, who's actually been on the podcast talking about her daughter’s sugar consumption. And she says that they're after school, the ice cream truck comes to the playground every day, and if you're in the supermarket, the cashier is handing your child a bag of gummy bears. The child is getting fed breakfast and lunch that the school provides and there's really no other option every day. And so can this approach really coexist in an environment where the parent wants to follow it, but is not able to be the one who provides most of the food?Ellyn Satter:
Yeah. So I think that your person is talking about their dinner guests spoiled every day because somebody is going to show up with an ice cream bar or cookie, or something like that. Is that what you're saying?Jen Lumanlan:
Potentially, yeah, I mean, it's not necessarily sort of the right before dinner thing. It's the constant throughout the day. This is just part of the cultural practices it seems that it's into how we move through our day, there's a sugary treat at every step of it.Ellyn Satter:
Yeah, well, I don't like that either. At the same time, as I think if parents can relax about the sugary treats that their kids are going to get tired of them. But I wonder if I mean, what you're saying is all day, every day somebody is giving the child access to some kind of food that is not mealtime food. I don't know how that really works. I don't know how that could actually be happening that somebody's doing that. Now I can see going to the grocery store after school and somebody hands over a cookie, I can see the ice cream truck showing up at the playground. And you know, parents can work with the child on that, you know, they can just have that be their afternoon snack because kids are hungry after school and if they want to have their cookie at the grocery store, or they're treated on the ice cream truck, that's fine.Jen Lumanlan:
I think the challenge comes when they already had cookies for snack and for lunch at school as well. So it's just constantly building and the child is always asking for sugar, you know, and the parents wondering, well, is the child actually experiencing scarcities and she's always asking for sugar.Ellyn Satter:
Well, you know, whenever a child always asked for sugar, well, you know, I'd look for a couple of things. One is I make sure that the parent is really being considerate without catering with meal planning because if the parent is insisting on being righteously nutritious at mealtime, then that sugar might be the only thing that a child is really interested in. That is really interesting to eat. And so you really have to back off and see it from the child's point of view. Are there some foods on the table that the child really enjoys eating? Or is it all pretty austere?Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and having worked with her for a while actually, I think that is not the case. I think she is following SDOR as closely as she can and she is providing liked food at every meal.Ellyn Satter:
Right. And some children are just really preoccupied with sweets that they think about them all day long, they long for them, they want them, they wonder about when the next time they can have their sweets. And with that child, I think in terms of offering sweets at almost every snack and you know, encouraging the child to save them after school would be the snack, the cookie at the grocery store would be the snack, asking the child now is that enough? Did you get enough to eat for your snack?
And if the child doesn't get enough with the cookie at the grocery store, then you know getting some more cookies or bringing them home and having them with milk at the meal, so you're really making sure that you're neutralizing the scarcity and reassuring the child that there will be times that they can have as much sweets as they want. And also, being clear with the child you know we have a structure here you just simply cannot eat all the time. And no, you can't get in the refrigerator and get your own snack unless you've earned it. And a child earns this once again when they get to be 11 or 12 years old and they have been compliant with the family structure around eating and with showing up at mealtime on time of mealtime pleasantly and devoting themselves to eating there and the same at snack time. There's a certain point at which children can begin to provide for themselves in terms of food selection. And so, if they've earned this by taking an interest in unfamiliar food and being businesslike at mealtime and doing most of their eating there, then you know children can start to provide for themselves at snack time. And that's the point at which they can get their food and sit down at the table and eat it, so they eat it, and they get done eating. And then that's it until the next meal or the next step, they can't just cruise and eat while they do their homework or watch TV. Eat and get it over with.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, and so you're talking about this kind of arrangement coming in at around 11 or 12. And I work with some parents who have children who are younger than that, but are very much sort of getting into the, you know, the parent tries to say, well, I'd like you to ask me before you go and get something from the fridge and the child says, well, no, I'm not going to ask you because you'd say no, or and if a parent tries to say what the child should or shouldn't be doing, then the child just sneaks the food. And so what do we do when we get ourselves in a situation where a child is sneaking or is just outright defiantly saying, I'm gonna go and get some chips, and there's nothing you can do about it?Ellyn Satter:
Well, I'm thinking two things, is the parent being considerate without catering? Are they being way too austere with their meal and snack planning? Does the child have to be defiant, in order to get food that they enjoy eating? So that's the first consideration—is seeing it from the child's point of view, in terms of the food that the parent is choosing. The second consideration is parental authority. I mean, what would you do if a child was misbehaving in other ways? If you told them No, you can't go to the neighbor's house and they go anyway, what would you do? And you know that there would be some punishment for that child, or there would be some loss of privileges for that child if he defied you in that way. And the same thing applies to food. Just because it's food doesn't mean that you relax on parental authority.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. And that actually leads to a real question that has been sort of bothering me for a while. And it's the distinction between boundaries and limits. And we in our community, sort of think of boundaries as something that I'm not willing to do. So I'm not willing to cater to you by cooking another meal, I'm not willing to get you another snack now. And I'm completely on board with setting boundaries. But it seems that there's another aspect of this, which is trying to change somebody else's behavior. So you may not have as another snack now, even if you're going to get it yourself, or you may not have this certain food at snack time, and I completely see the fit with boundaries, and SDOR. But if we're trying to follow our child's cues around hunger and support them in following their own cues around hunger, why are we setting limits on I guess, firstly, what they eat, and secondly, when they eat it, and I think a lot of parents think of this around grazing through the day.Ellyn Satter:
Well, I have to tell you that what you're saying about boundaries and limits doesn't mean a lot to me, or, you know, it doesn’t compute for me, I'm glad it computes for you. But in terms of the division of responsibility, and feeding is all about who does what? It's about control. Who's in control of what? And if you can call that a boundary or limit, but it's who's in control of what so the parent has control of that, what, when, and where.
And the reason you're in control of the when is that you want that is important for eating competence, it's important for people to arrive at eating times on time and hungry, so they have the opportunity to take an interest in the food that's there. And so that when then, is important. It's in the parents’ purview to say when the child shall be allowed to eat. And when you predicate, the way you feed your child on structure, that means that the child's rhythms of hunger rhythms are going to match the family mealtime. You don't just feed the child when hunger strikes, you establish the structure and so the child's hunger rhythms come to match that. And this is important, I mean, it's all about sociability—If you have everybody eating willy nilly whenever they feel like it, then you're not going to be able to help a family meal, because everybody's couldn't be off eating on their own. So yeah, it has to do with sociability, as well as providing for the child's nutritional needs.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. So it's holding those two things together. And then I guess the other aspect of it is around whether grazing is actually harmful and in child of mine, you actually cite a study, It was based in New Guinea though, and was talking about children who had poorly developing poor outcomes of development when they were snacking throughout the day grazing rather than when they were eating structured meals, and I'm just wondering—is it harmful to a child's health degrades?Ellyn Satter:
I'm glad you talked about those New Guinea children because it was a strange thing. And I read a recent study that says they're still doing it. And the thing is that parents sort of all over the island, prepare meals, you know, they have brother, they're cooking over an open fire, it takes a long time to get a meal ready. When they get a meal ready, the parents sit down and eat, and nobody goes and finds the children. And in the meantime, the children are roaming the island and if they happen to show up at somebody's campfire when their food is ready, then they get to eat. And if they don't, they don't. And so it seems to me that has more about population management than it is about nutrition because those kids don't do very well, and they die. But the grazing and the way that we do it is that in terms of nutritional quality, nutritional adequacy, that kids don't graze for vegetables, they graze for candy and chips, and you know, the high sugar, high fat, easy to like foods. So in order to see to it, that they get the food they need, you need to manage grazing. And also in terms of how much they eat, sometimes, and it's so variable, that sometimes a child who grazes eats too much, and gets too fat, like the little boy that I told you about. Other times, they eat too little, and, you know, grow poorly. And other times they just grow fine. It seems like children vary so much in terms of their growth potential and their ability to regulate food intake across a variety of ways of managing feeding. And so really, the best bet is to go with the what, when, and where. Have structured feeding where you bring kids to the food and a positive setting and give them an opportunity to get their nutritional needs met.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. I am hearing a little more nuanced from you though, it seems as though some children are fine with grazing, and maybe they're even grazing on vegetables, some children are, most probably aren't some children are grazing on vegetables. So I get the idea of if we want to be more sure we should, with the model, if everything's okay, you know, the child is following their carbs, and they are eating a balanced diet, is grazing inherently harmful,Ellyn Satter:
Well, no. Why does it matter to you? I mean, that you don't know which child you have so wouldn't you optimize your feeding for all these three different kinds of children that I was talking about. So it's really not about grazing being good or harmful about really whether it works. And you know, and I think it comes back to parents eating competence, that if some parents just want to graze all day long, they don't want to have structure in the way they feed themselves. And for those parents, it's very hard to introduce structure in feeding. But nonetheless, it's important, because it's really hard to feed children if you don't have structure. And for one thing that without structure, there's absolutely no sociability around eating. Everybody's on their own, doing things their own way.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay. So if there was one sort of nugget of wisdom that you would love to impart to parents. What would it be? I'm thinking of two or three that come to my mind, but I'm curious to see what comes to your mind.Ellyn Satter:
That was what my first thing. That was my first guess!Ellyn Satter:
And enjoy your own food. In today's world, there's so much pressure on worrying about food and doing it just right, eating the right food, avoiding the wrong food. And it just just way too painful. And it's ineffective because we end up with all these agendas about how we want ourselves to eat, how we want our kids to eat. Whereas if we can relax and half look forward to a good meal and go to the table hungry and eat until we feel satisfied and let our kids do the same. And our chances are we're going to come out pretty well because we'll be raising children to feel good about eating, eat a variety of food, enjoy eating a variety of food, eat as much as they want, and take seriously fitting themselves having it not just be an after the fact off handle, oh I forgot to eat kind of thing but you know, do a good job of feeding themselves. And you know, in today's world, we're raising kids to worry about good nutrition; to try not to eat so much, try not to eat the food we like, or try not to eat too much for fear we're going to get fat. We're raising kids to worry about food to be ashamed of their eating is really not a good basis for nutritional health, for maintenance of appropriate for consistent body weight. It's a choice really, which way you're going to have it. Are you going to be on nutrition ESA? Or are you going to enjoy your food?Jen Lumanlan:
Enjoy your food people. Thank you so much, Ellyn, I'm so grateful that you could take time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule to speak with us.Ellyn Satter:
Oh, you're quite welcome. It's been fun Jen.Jen Lumanlan:
And so listeners can find all of the references for today's episode along with links to Ellyn's website and her books at yourparentingmojo.com/SDOR. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don't forget to subscribe to the show yourparentingmojo.com to receive new episode notifications, and the free guide to 13 reasons your child isn't listening to you and what to do about each one. And also join the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. For more respectful research-based ideas to help kids thrive and make parenting easier for you. I'll see you next time on Your Parenting Mojo.
I never knew about this DOR. Very interesting
As someone trained in research, I so much appreciate your podcast. I’ve been using the division of responsibility with my now toddler since she started solids and loved getting to hear your episode with Ellyn Satter.
One thing that I’m curious about after the episode is what you’re thoughts are on how to manage kids helping themselves to food outside of set meal-times or when they say they’re “going to get some food now” regardless of what their caregiver thinks.
I noticed that you asked Ms. Satter this question, and her response said that in this situation “there would be some punishment for that child, or there would be some loss of privileges for that child”. You then asked a question that got at why we set limits on grazing, and Ms. Satter responded by reiterating that SDOR is about “who’s in control of what”, and how the parent is in control of “what, when, and where”.
I love the concept of SDOR and the potential benefits for kids around eating competence, and understand how grazing can cause issues. But while I understand her ideas, this didn’t sit right with my respectful parenting style. One solution might be setting up the environment to make food inaccessible, but this isn’t practical with the way my home is set up (and certainly won’t be as she grows).
Assuming you’re doing everything “right” (eg being “considerate without catering”, offering food often enough, etc), how would you might handle this situation yourself through a respectful parenting lens?