Teaching Our Children to Eat Well

Written by Christine Jordan, EdS, LMFT

Take a moment and think about what you want your child to know about eating. Your first thoughts might focus more on what food you would like your child to eat. We all want our children to eat their fruits and vegetables and to choose healthier foods more often than less healthy ones. As we think deeper, we might come up with those skills that help how our child eats versus just what he eats. We might want our child to really enjoy eating without guilt and shame. As we struggle to figure out what's for dinner, we might wish that our child would learn to eat a variety of foods and to be able to make do with the food provided as a meal. As you watch your over-eater or under-eater, you might want your child to go by feelings of hunger and fullness, so that he knows how much to eat to be the size that is right for him. As your teen becomes more independent, you might want him to make food choices that support his health such as not skipping meals and snacks. What our children learn about how to eat is important. And the more they know about how to eat, what they choose will be more nutritionally sound. So, how do we as parents help our children learn how to eat well?

Know your job as a parent. 

Ellyn Satter who is a registered dietitian and family therapist helps parents enjoy feeding their families by knowing their job. Satter says, "If the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers." To help parents, Satter pioneered a powerful parenting concept, the division of responsibility. The division of responsibility defines the parent's responsibility with feeding and the child's responsibility with eating. The parent's responsibility or job in the division of responsibility involves the what, when and where of feeding. Parents are responsible for what they provide to their family at meals and snacks. They are responsible for when meals and snacks are offered. And parents are responsible for where meals and snacks are provided.

Do your job with feeding, and let your child do his job with eating.

The parent's job is the what, when and where of feeding, so what is the child's responsibility? The child's job is to come to the table for a meal and snack, and to decide for himself how much or whether he wants to eat. Your child decides how much he will eat of the snack or meal provided. At some meals it might be a lot and other meals it might be less. When we let children decide and go by their own feelings of hunger and fullness, we teach them to tune into their bodies. When they tune in, they are more likely to eat the amount that they need to grow and develop the bodies right for them.

Trust your child to do his job with eating.

When the division of responsibility is going well, you are doing your job with feeding, trust that your child will learn how to do his job with eating. If we are doing our job, our children will definitely learn all of those skills to help him to eat well and feeding our families will be more enjoyable. 

Provided by staff who are part of Brenner FIT (Families in Training). Brenner FIT® is a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children's that helps families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT offers free cooking, nutrition and parenting classes.