Feeding Your Kids (and you!) This Summer

A feeding structure that drowns out the “shoulds,” numbers, and external rules and allows you to listen to your internal messages and help shape your days this summer.

By Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, CEDRD-S

We’re many weeks into social distancing, and while some places are opening, a lot are not.


I know as I look at my calendar, I don’t know what the summer months will bring. I don’t know what my children will do this summer. I don’t know what I will do with my children this summer.


It feels as though the uncertainty of the future is hard and at the same time the day to day is hard.  And, all of this to say, as parents, we need to keep taking care of ourselves and our children each day.


As a dietitian and mother of three, I think food can be a source of support and comfort during times like these. As we look ahead on our empty calendars, using Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding for your family and you, can be grounding and source of support.


If you’re not familiar with Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, it’s a model of feeding children that supports children in growing up to be competent eaters.


Satter defines competent eating as, “being positive, comfortable, and flexible with eating as well as matter-of-fact and reliable about getting enough to eat of enjoyable and nourishing food.”


These are all qualities of eating I know I want my children to have as adult eaters. However, the messages of the media about how children should eat and how parents need to feed their children can drown out what is best to support each child’s growth and development in eating.

Drown out the “shoulds,” numbers, and external rules and listen to your internal messages. This is complex and takes work, but you need and deserve to be fueled and supported, just as much as your children do.

What is the Division of Responsibility in Feeding?

In Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (sDOR), the parents’ jobs are to decide the “when,” “what,” and “where”: when it is time to eat, what is served, and where it is served. The child’s jobs are to decide the “if” and “how much”: if they’re going to eat each item offered and how much.


This model of feeding is used to support families with concerns about picky eating, slow or rapid weight gain and other childhood eating concerns.

So, What Does This Mean?

To me, this means structure, guidance, and the ability to take a breath and not feel stressed about feeding this summer.


As parents, we can do our jobs of having set meal and snack times (“the when”) and having children stop what they are doing, come to a table, (or other place to sit) and eat (“the where”).


We can put together balanced, nutritious meals and snacks, (“the what”).


For example, you may say, “It’s snack time. We’re having yogurt/fruit or peanut butter/apples or little sandwiches or milk and cookies. Let’s stop playing and have a seat at the table (or this park bench) and eat our snack.” 


Once you’ve done your jobs, you can take a deep breath and allow your child to do their jobs.


Allow your child to decide “what” they are going to eat of the items served and “how much.”  They may just eat the apples and not the peanut butter.  Or they may eat just the meat from inside the sandwiches. Or, they may eat a lot at snack time and not be as hungry at dinner or very little at snack time and get really hungry by dinner time.


That is all okay.  Children learn best through experience.


This structure can help shape your days this summer. Set snack and mealtimes can add a structure for your day. Allowing kids to do their jobs, may help relieve you of your worry if your child is a picky eater or you’re worried your child is eating “too much” or “not enough.”


This doesn’t mean a child won’t eat a lot or a little at a meal. It means that with some structure, children’s bodies can be trusted to self regulate over time.

Do This For You!

In addition to helping you feed your child, using this structure can support YOU!


YOU need to be fueled, too. You can use this structure to take care of yourself and tune into your body’s needs.


Do your jobs: Set a time and place and make a balanced meal or snack for your children and you. Sit down with your child at snack and meal times. Then, when you take your deep breath to allow your child to decide “if” and “how much,” allow yourself to do the same.


Drown out the “shoulds,” numbers, and external rules and listen to your internal messages.  This is complex and takes work, but you need and deserve to be fueled and supported, just as much as your children do. 

Interested to learn more? Check out: Ellyn Satter institute, Sunny Side Up Nutrition, and Lutz, Alexander & Associates Nutrition Therapy.

Anna specializes in eating disorders and pediatric/family nutrition. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) and an Approved Supervisor, both through the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp). Anna previously worked at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC where she served as an outpatient Registered Dietitian at the Delaney Eating Disorders Clinic. In this role, Anna gained experience working with children and their families around feeding dynamics, diabetes, food allergies, and other pediatric nutrition concerns. Anna most recently worked on the Eating and Body Image Concerns Treatment Team at Duke University Student Health. Anna is a national speaker and delivers workshops and presentations on eating disorders, weight-inclusive healthcare, and childhood feeding. She also writes about nutrition and family feeding, free of diet culture, at Sunny Side Up Nutrition. She has been working in private practice since 2006 at Lutz, Alexander & Associates Nutrition Therapy.

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