Avoiding the mealtime battle: The 3 L's of planning a child's meal

Love. Like. Learning About


Mealtimes with children can be some of the nicest shared family moments but also one of the regular daily battles. I’ve recently been re-reading Ellyn Satter’s work on the “Division of responsibility in feeding”. The division of responsibility in feeding (sDOR) encourages you (the parent) to take leadership with the what, when, and where of feeding and let your child determine how much and whether to eat of what you provide. It applies at every stage in your child’s growing-up years, from infancy through to adolescence. You can read more about that here.

It’s great stuff and has applications to lots of families out there – but what if you don’t know where to start? How can you set your child up for success at mealtimes? Well, that’s the stuff that could fill dozens of books (and has). As per usual, it’s not usually a quick fix. I’ll be doing a few more posts on some of my feeding rules of thumb, but for now here’s one of my favourite rules of 3 when planning out a meal (and snack).

  1. A food I love – Always put at least one thing on the plate that you just KNOW that your child will eat if they have any kind of appetite. For a lot of children, this is where those starches go (e.g. plain pasta, crackers, etc.) Having at least one food that’s guaranteed to make it into that little tummy takes the pressure off everyone.
  2. A food I like – One of the foods on the plate should be a food that is not necessarily a favourite, but one that stands a good chance of being eaten. For many children, this might be a semi-preferred vegetable or protein source
  3. A food I’m learning about – Or in other words; a food that you don’t really expect to get eaten. This isn’t the time to pull out the food that will have your child running from the table. Instead, choose something that isn’t currently in their food repertoire but is a food that the rest of the family eats. By continuing to put this food on the plate (without forcing your child to eat it), they get exposed to the food in a low-pressure way and then have the opportunity to see other people around them eat and enjoy it. One day, out of nowhere, you might just find that they’ll surprise you and have a try. You’ve got to be in it to win it!