Mealtime as a family is ridiculously beneficial to children from a nutritional point of view, as well as socially and emotionally. The problem lies in first getting your little ones to the table, get them sitting at the table and then ultimately eating at the table. All in the least stressful way possible.

Why?

The stress benefits nobody. Least of all the children in terms of building a positive association to meal time. Couple that with a child who is tentative around eating or trying new foods, the stress will continue and snowball.

The eating theory of  Division of Responsibility  (by Ellyn Satter) is one which helps reduce the stress in the meal time occasion. It marries nicely with Family Style Eating, which I wrote about here. 

Division of Responsibility is not a quick fix to your child’s eating woes. It is a long term strategy to build trust and a relationship around food, family and eating.

It goes a little like this.

The parent or carer decides:

  • What the meal is;
  • When it is served and
  • Where it is served.

The child decides:

  • If they eat and
  • How much they eat.

 

Here is a little video below of my own family eating.

We probably started using this technique from when my almost 7 year old, Maya, started solids, Baby Led Weaning style. It took so much pressure off the meal time, I can’t tell you. At that time my eldest (now 9!) was 3.

And we have continued to use it since then.

The parent/carer:

What?

The reason it takes the pressure off the meal time is that I know that if I serve a wholefood meal, that it will inherently have healthy foods incorporated. Which means, regardless of what my children choose to eat, they will choose one, some or all foods which are nutritious to their bodies.

Your home is not a restaurant and you shouldn’t have to cater for their every request. You decide the meal.

Of course, it is important for fussy eaters to have some of their ‘safe’ foods on the table. So that the child will always have something to choose from.

When?

When to serve dinner. It depends on your children’s age, whether you have after school activities and might be different on given days.

Take into consideration what your child’s temperament is like in the evening.

For our own family, dinner needs to be by 5:45-6pm at the latest! Otherwise for my two youngest, there is no point. On the days we are going to get home late, afternoon tea is a larger meal. And on Fridays, because I am tired, dinner is often 4:30pm!

Where?

Sure, dinner tables are best, but picnics on the floor together or outside are just as much fun. As long as you are together, that’s the important part.

For little ones under 3, meal time is pretty brief. They are involved with the set up of the table but allowed to go play again until the meal is served. To maximise their eating attention span.

 

The child:

If and How Much

I’ll give you an example from our place.

In the above video we had a Roast Chook (so easy to cook, check out a recipe here), salad, rice and roasted sweet potato.

  • Timmy (3.5) ate rice, carrots, chicken and tomato.
  • Maya (almost 7) ate rice, carrots, sweet potato and tomato.
  • Isadora (9) ate rice, carrots, tomato, chicken, capsicum.

They all ate differently, but they all ate a variety of foods, food groups and colours of vegetables which correlates nicely with different micronutrients. Winning in my books. And I only served one meal.

Here is another video too. Timmy is a babbbbyyy! And so are the girls. Waaaaa. Time flies. But you can see that the kids are serving themselves as per Division of Responsibility as well as Family Style Eating too.

Here is the simple Roasted Chook Recipe.

You can also find the knives Timmy is using to eat his meal in the first video, here.

And my story book about eating together “At my family table” here.

Share this post with anybody who has troubles getting their little ones to the table and eating. And let me know what your favourite family style meal success is at your place?