Pathways to Wellness

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Food rules

It's pretty common for parents and children to struggle over food – what to eat, when to eat, and where to eat, to name a few.  It's not always easy to figure out how to make peace over food.  Here are a few "food rules" which you may find helpful.

American dietitian Ellyn Satter has a neat way of dividing up who's responsible for what when it comes to eating.  She suggests that

  • the parent is responsible for what, when and where kids eat
  • the child is responsible for whether they eat and how much

According to Satter, if parents do their job, children will eat to meet their needs.  To read more about this division of responsibility:

Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding

2 Have regular meal and snack times that work for the whole family most of the time.  Sit down together for meals whenever you can, and take advantage of the time to talk and enjoy each other's company – without the television or radio on.  Make dinners a real family affair by having everyone pitch in according to their ability to help make the meal, set or clear the table, or do the dishes. 

3 Don't make special foods or meals for children – you're not a short order cook!  Meals can be planned so that everyone in the family sees at least one food that they like and want to eat.  Children, and adults too, can decide which foods they want to eat, and how much. 

4 Be flexible - within limits.  Instead of thinking about foods as "bad" or "good", think about how often to eat different types of food:

  • Choose most often - for example, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains, milk, eggs, lean meat and fish, nuts
  • Choose sometimes - for example, vegetables with sauces, granola bars, cookies, chocolate milk, commercially made chicken fingers
  • Choose least often - for example, pastries, fruit drinks, pop, hot dogs, fried foods

Substituting a healthier alternative for a less healthy option at least some times is a good overall strategy – everything in moderation.  After all, you want your children to have a good relationship with food.  See

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