Teaching Children to Eat Well



By Christine Jordan, EdS, LMFT, Wake Forest Baptist Health Brenner FIT

Take a moment and think about what you want your children to know about eating. Your first thoughts might focus more on what food you would like them 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 they eat versus just what they eat. We might want our children to really enjoy eating without guilt and shame.

Often, we struggle to figure out what’s for dinner. We want our children to learn to eat a variety of foods and to be able to enjoy the prepared meal. As you watch your over-eater or under-eater, you might want your children to know themselves when they are hungry and full. As your teen becomes more independent, you might want him to make food choices that support good 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, a registered dietitian and family therapist, helps parents enjoy feeding their families by knowing their job. “If the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers,” says Satter. To help parents, Satter pioneered a powerful parenting concept, the division of responsibility. The division of responsibility defines the parent’s responsibility as feeding, and children’s responsibility as 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 children do their job with eating.

The parent’s job is the what, when and where of feeding; so what is your children’s responsibility? The children’s job is to come to the table for a meal and snack, and to decide for themselves how much, or whether he wants, to eat. Your children decide how much they 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 children to do their job with eating.

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

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Brenner FIT (Families in Training), a pediatric weight-management program at Brenner Children’s Hospital, is here to help families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT Kohl’s Family Collaborative offers free cooking, nutrition, and parenting classes. Visit BrennerChildrens.org/BrennerFit for our current class listing. Register by calling 336-713-2348 or e-mail brennerfit@wakehealth.edu.


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