Division of Responsibility: Childhood through Adolescence

One of my favorite Ellyn Satter quotes is “when parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating”1. It is certainly apparent that infants and toddlers need their parents to play an active role in helping them to form happy relationships with food. But it’s important to remember that older children (even adolescents) still need their parental involvement. In particular, children depend on their parents to provide mealtime structure; therefore, Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding (DOR) doesn’t end in toddlerhood; rather, it should continue through adolescence. 

At this stage, the parent is still responsible for for what, when, and where to eat and the child is still responsible for how much to eat and whether to eat. Ellyn Satter defines that the parents’ feeding job is to:

  • Arrange for your child to have 3 family friendly meals a day at set times.

  • Let your child eat her way (fast or slow, a lot or a little, some of everything or just 1-2 foods).

  • Let your child eat in any order, even if he eats dessert first.

  • Let your child have more of any food even if he hasn’t cleared his plate.

  • Say no to between meal food and beverage grazing, except for water.

  • Snack right after school and at the table.  No munching with homework or in front of the TV. 

  • After she learns to go by the snacking rules, let your older school-age child choose her own snack, even if it is an undesirable food that is high in fat or sugar. 

  • Expect your child to manage her schedule and her snacking so she can arrive at dinner on time and hungry.

  • Build your child’s food-management skills for after she leaves home: meal planning, food preparation, shopping, storage, sanitation.

Fulfilling these jobs for your child is empowering: you are equipping her with the intrinsic understanding of how food fuels the body, and you’re allowing her the autonomy to make choices that will lead into adulthood. Ultimately? When parents learn the skills for feeding, all children – regardless of feeding problem – can learn to enjoy a wide range of family meals. 

Lisa Grentz, MS, RD, CD, Lead Dietitian

1The Ellyn Satter Institute. (2019). Retrieved May 25, 2019 at https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org./how-to-feed/child-feeding-ages-and-stages/