Feb 12, 2009

Feeding the kids: So far I really like Ellyn Satter's book

Thank you so much for all of your supportive and reassuring comments and emails on the topic of the boys' eating - I appreciate them more than I can say! As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the boys did not eat the meatball sandwiches that I made for dinner recently. But it didn't really bother me that much after Jennifer pointed out that her kids eat less for dinner when they've spent all day at daycare/preschool, and I realized that it's the same with my kids. I think Alex gets one afternoon snack, and Tyler gets two. So it's actually understandable that they're not particularly hungry for dinner on school nights. Now I just have to remember that.

Meanwhile, I've been reading Ellyn Satter's book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.(Thanks again, Camille and Dina!) The book is divided into three sections, and the second one is called "How to Raise Good Eaters." I started with that section, since my main concern right now is making meal times pleasant for everyone.

As Satter explains things, my responsibilities as a parent are to determine the what, when and where of eating, and the kids should determine the how much and whether of eating. In other words, present all of the food at once, and let them decide whether they want to eat and how much, and do this on a consistent schedule for meals and snacks, with only water in between.

I like this division of responsibilities, and it doesn't scare me the way it might scare other parents because my kids are, in spite of all of my concerns, pretty good eaters. I don't worry about them eating too much or too little overall. Their disdain of all things in the vegetable family is a concern, but they do eat lots of fresh fruit. It's their limited palate that causes most of the angst in our house.

The biggest change I've made so far is to present them with their entire meal at once. I used to give them the main component, and when they were done with it, I'd give them fruit. But since this past weekend, I've been serving the fruit with the main dish, and if they don't eat much of the main dish, that's fine. This has also changed the "short order cook" aspect of our meals (most of the time), because I'm not scrambling to make something else for them to eat once they've rejected the entree.

The examples in Satter's book are understandably more extreme, and she says it takes four to six weeks for the patterns to change and the children to become less fussy at the table – provided the parents maintain their responsibilities of the what, when and where and don't interfere with the kids' exercise of their how much and whether responsibilities.

I can see how this division of responsibilities encourages kids to be more adventurous, eat more vegetables, and generally be healthier eaters. But it presupposes that the parents are setting a good example, and so once I finish the second section of the book on raising good eaters, I'm going to turn my attention to the first section, "How to Eat," to ensure that Marc and I are doing our parts as role models. I'll keep you posted!


Unknown said...

I found with my daughter and her friends it was easier if they were required one bite of every thing. If they did not like it they did not have to eat it but they had to tell me what they did like. No one was allowed to say they did not like something. We would list things we liked and I would make more of these. Meals were more pleasant for everyone. An friends who normally would say they did not like anything the did not recognize learned to like new foods. I stressed what we called house rules each home has individual rules on behavior form drinking out of bowls to using chop sticks or removing shoes. Another of mine after school snack consisted of one healthy and one junk for a snack.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Trudy - Oh, I love "house rules." What a fabulous way to explain that everyone has different rules, thank you! In keeping with Satter's plan, I've taken to encouraging but (usually) not demanding that my children try everything on their plates - it kind of depends on whether I think they might actually like it.