Raising Happy Healthy Eaters with the Division of Responsibility

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Feeding children can feel like a endless challenge that comes with pressure to make sure they are eating enough or not too much. There’s also the seemingly never ending decisions of what to feed them and when. That’s a lot of pressure!

Parents and caregivers often feel frustrated with picky eating and receive conflicting messages from family, friends, medical providers, and social media. While each child has individual needs and every family has their own schedule and routines, there is a way to reduce the pressure and bring more lightness, and even fun, to feeding our kids.

Child covering mouth and holding a hand out to refuse broccoli being held by an adult.

The Division of Responsibility is way of feeding kids that can reduce meal time struggles and support children’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Ellyn Satter, registered dietitian and feeding expert, developed this evidenced-based philosophy  that sets feeding roles for parents/caregivers and children that help lead to confident eaters and less pressure on everyone.

Division of Responsibility is often summed up as “The parent provides, the child decides.”

Parent or Caregiver

Determine WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE food is offered

  • Choose and prepare the food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks.
  • Make eating times comfortable with an appropriate seat and environment.
  • Model the behaviors you want to see at meal times.
  • Include food(s) that are familiar to your child when introducing new, unfamiliar foods.
  • Not let children have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and
    snack times.
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them.
  • Trust your child to fulfil their eating responsibilities….


Determine HOW MUCH and WHETHER to eat

  • Eat the amount they need.
  • Learn to eat the food their parents/caregivers eat.
  • Grow the
    way their body is meant to grow.
  • Learn acceptable behaviors at mealtime over time.

Here are some scenarios that may play out in your home.

Scenario 1: Your 3 year old asks for more banana. They haven’t eaten anything else on their plate.

Response:  Provide more banana (as long as there is enough to go around and it’s not needed for another meal/snack). Allowing the child to determine how much banana to eat trust them to regulate what they need.

Scenario 2: Your child say they are hungry and want a snack but it’s not time for a meal or snack.

Response: Acknowledge their hunger and let them know that it’s not time to eat but a snack or a meal will be served soon. It’s important to keep consistent meal and snack times as often as possible and limit snacking in between these time to ensure the child has an appetite at meals.

Scenario 3: Your 5 year old says they are not eating what you made for dinner because they don’t like it. They want a grilled cheese sandwich instead.

Response: Let them know that grilled cheese isn’t on the menu tonight but will be another time. Also remind them they don’t have to eat if they don’t want to. Joining everyone at the table is still expected but no pressure to eat! It’s ok if they choose not to eat, they can eat at the next usual meal/snack time.

Find more details and resources for feeding your children (6 months- adolescents) at the Ellyn Satter Institute.