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“Finish Your Peas!”

Elisheva Dorfman, LMFT, and Adina Pearson, RDN

How to improve the “food culture” in your home, while giving your children intuitive eating tools that will stand them in good stead for life

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

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Your child is not necessarily a picky eater. It’s developmentally typical for children to become selective with their food choices around two years old.

Most of us have an image of what a family dinner is supposed to look like — there are smiling family members talking together, and a table full of healthy food that everyone is eating happily.

Then there’s reality.

“I said it a few times already — no dessert until you’re done.”

“I hate this dinner! I want plain noodles instead!”

“You must eat some veggies. That’s the rule.”

“Eeeww, my food is soggy/mushy/cold. I’m not eating it anymore.”

Mealtime is a source of daily stress for many mothers. They can feel like drill sergeants at the dinner table, monitoring their children’s every bite, especially if there’s a looming worry or fear — maybe their children aren’t eating enough, or is eating too much.

Some mothers spend hours making healthy balanced meals, only to have their kids protest and eat cereal instead. Then there are the varying food preferences of the family (your teenage son only wants fleishigs, your toddler won’t touch food unless it’s white, your third-grader wants mac-’n-cheese seven days a week, and that’s not even factoring in your preteen, who has food allergies). Some moms respond by having a set menu schedule every week (leaving at least one child miserable every night). Others insist that the simplest option is to make separate meals for every child.

There is, however, an easier way that not only ensures that your child eats a wholesome balanced diet now, but — perhaps more important — that he grows into an adult who knows how to make smart food choices and who has a healthy relationship with eating.

The DOR Method

If you’ve ever complained about your child’s eating habits to a pediatrician, dietician, therapist, or OT, chances are that some aspect of Ellyn Satter’s work was mentioned. A registered dietitian and licensed clinical social worker, Satter is considered an internationally renowned childhood feeding expert and is famous for creating the Division of Responsibility (DOR) construct for feeding children.

Some children may need up to 15 (or more!) exposures to a particular food before they develop a taste for it.

DOR is the most reliable evidence-based feeding model for raising children who are healthy eaters for life. They grow into adults who are in control around all types of foods, able to self-regulate in response to inner hunger and satiety cues, and interested in exploring new types of foods. As professionals who specialize in childhood eating issues, we’ve consistently seen how well DOR works, which is why we use it at home with our own children and encourage our clients to adopt it as well.

The DOR method is based on the belief that most children are born with the innate ability to regulate their food intake — they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. The goal of DOR is to preserve that inborn intuition.

The magic of Satter’s DOR is that it neatly divides the feeding landscape into two distinct territories. When it comes to feeding children, parents are in charge of the what, when, and where of eating, and children are in charge of the whether and how much of eating.

Practically speaking, this means that parents inform children what is being served for meals and snacks, rather than asking them what they want or negotiating with them. For afternoon snack, we’ll be having apples and peanut butter. Dinner tonight is lasagna and salad.

Parents are asked to plan menus that take into account individual food preferences in an effort to be, in Satter’s words, “considerate without catering.” Trying to ensure that there’s at least one food every eater can tolerate when hungry is a good rule of thumb. Sometimes this means adding sliced bananas or cucumbers to your family dinner table, or a bowl of tortilla chips or bread rolls.

The when and where is also determined by parents. We will have an afternoon snack at the park before having dinner at Bubby’s house at 6 p.m. Parents are tasked with the responsibility of preparing and offering three meals and two to three snacks a day. It’s ideal to eat together as a family and to serve food family-style, where all the food is laid out on the table and each member serves himself. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 564)

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