Feeding Relationship – Part 2

What about Dessert?

If you read last week’s blog entry you may be trying to adopt  the Division of Responsibility in your own home.  You will recall that this states:

Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of eating. The child is responsible for the how much and whether of eating.

One mum was at a loss as to what to do about dessert. Previously, she would reward her children with dessert IF they finished off their vegetables.  She admits that often times she would still give dessert even if the veggies weren’t touched. This past week she has tried a few new foods and offered them without apology or dangling rewards. She let the kids know it was up to them how much they ate, BUT, this was dinner and there was no more food until breakfast.

The children ate parts of the meal and left others and then demanded dessert as they were so accustomed. She was concerned they were still hungry but wasn’t sure where dessert fit in to this plan.

My suggestion would be to make dessert a part of the nutritious meal.  The good news is YOU get to decide the menu.  Preparing a healthy dessert that is always available is a great way to get around the “dessert battlefield”.  You will never have another argument about whether your children deserve dessert. Imagine that.

They can always have dessert as you have planned and prepared it and it forms a part of  the dinner meal.  For example,  a bowl of mixed berries with natural yogurt and a teaspoon of honey is a fantastic way to boost your child’s daily nutrient and fibre intake as well as provide a note of sweetness that they may desire.

One word of caution – try not to use dessert to fill all the gaps that were left at dinner. If the child knows he will receive a massive bowl of fruit and yogurt or another form of dessert, then this will prevent him trying new dinner foods when he is hungry. Aim to provide a moderate portion of a nutritious dessert after dinner and if the kids want it, great; if not, no problem. Of course pies, brownies and cookies can also be given for dessert now and again. However, the one exception to the rule is that parents will dictate the portion size but the child can still decide whether he wants to eat it or not.

Some suggested healthy desserts:

Now that summer is (almost) upon us, fresh local fruit is a great way to enjoy dessert.

  • Peaches (or strawberries) and cream
  • Stewed cherries with ricotta and slivered almonds
  • Nothing says fun like fruit on a stick
  • Grilled mango or pineapple.
    • Change up your regular serving of fruit by gently grilling it on the bbq or indoor grill pan. The flavours intensify and these tropical fruits feel like a real treat.


Traditional crumble is always a favourite. This version is low in added sugar but will still delight your kids.

Fruit Crumble

Serves 2

1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen fruit
1  teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons orange juice
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3 tablespoons chopped almonds
3 teaspoons brown sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter – melted

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine fruit with sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons flour and orange juice. Divide between two 6- ounce ovenproof ramekins. Combine oats, almonds, brown sugar, the remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon. Drizzle with melted butter and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the fruit mixture. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden.

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Cultivate a Healthy Feeding Relationship with your Child

Mealtimes with children can be one of the most challenging parts to a parent’s day. The parent will go to great lengths to prepare a healthy, balanced meal for the child and the child may turn up his nose at it, or declare “I HATE THIS” or simply ignore it all together while he drinks his milk and then asks for dessert.

Sound familiar? Well, don’t despair.

A very wise and renowned dietician by the name of Ellyn Satter devised a concept called the Division of Responsibility. This states:

Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding, and children are responsible for the how much and whether of eating.

The ultimate goal in following the Division of Responsibility is two-fold. Firstly, it ensures that as your child grows up he progressively increases his food acceptance. Secondly, it ensures the child is able to regulate his own eating behaviour based upon his internal cues of hunger, appetite and satiety.

So what the concept entails is that the parents choose the food and decide the menu and how it is presented. Kids then decide on how much to eat and whether they eat at all. Yes, that’s right, NOT eating is always an option. Don`t be afraid.

What is important in executing this concept effectively is that the parent or caregiver is in charge of choosing and preparing 3 meals and planned snacks each day.  I say “planned” as to distinguish these snacks from handouts, for example, when a child gets down from the dinner table having not eaten a thing and then asks for a piece of toast.

With regular feedings the child has time to get hungry in between meals and this increases their chances of trying new foods.

At mealtime make one meal for everybody. I would suggest having something on the plate that you know your child would like or at least tolerate. Offer the food in a neutral fashion. Once that food hits the table – your job has ended. It is now up to your child to decide how much or whether to eat at all.

They may simply pick at their veggies, they may move the food around the plate with a grumpy face. They may not eat much at all. Don’t say a word. They will make up for it at the next eating opportunity – which YOU have planned and prepared.

Resist the temptation to be a short order cook. Do not make meal substitutes if your child complains about the food or refuses to eat. It is counter-productive in terms of building a child’s food acceptance.

The ONLY way they will learn to regulate their own eating is if they are allowed to experience the consequences of their behaviour. It can be incredibly difficult allowing your child to leave the table hungry. Yes, they may go to bed hungry and yes, I won’t lie, they may wake up in the middle of the night hungry. But if you can refuse a snack at 5:55pm right before dinner, then you can refuse a snack at 4am. They WILL make up for it at the next eating opportunity and I can assure you once they learned the feeling of going to bed hungry, they are unlikely to do it again.  They will learn that dinner is for eating. Stick to your guns.

If you are consistent in following the Division of Responsibility and do not put pressure on the child to eat, something miraculous will happen:

– they will eat the food you prepare

– and they will stop eating when they are full.


Do not reward a child for trying new food. Research has shown that rewarding children for trying new food interfered with their learning to like it. This same research also showed that a child allowed to approach the food on their own were more likely to go back to it than those who had been rewarded to try it.

Try to relax about food acceptance. It takes time and young children are naturally neophobic, that is, they dislike new food. However, the more familiar they are with food the more likely they are to try it and eventually to like it.  Simply LOOKING AT food increases their familiarity and, therefore, liking for a food. All those times you put a piece of fish on their plate and they didn’t touch it, it wasn’t an absolute waste.  They get used to seeing it, they get used to smelling it. Then one day, without any pressure from you, they’ll start eating it. You’ll want to do a little happy dance but try not to pay too much attention. It was the child’s idea to eat the food, don’t make a big deal of it.

Seeing the food is one way to increase the likelihood of acceptance; however, tasting it is even better. You don’t want to demand they taste anything, again, it should be up to them. You can let them know that it is always encouraged to at least taste the food, but then leave it at that. Don’t demand, don’t reward, just suggest.  It is much more tolerable for a child to try something new if they have the option of taking it out of their mouth. Tasting, chewing or even licking are completely different from swallowing. Ensure you have a paper napkin at the table and that the child knows he is allowed to remove the morsel should they so wish.

Cultivate an attitude that your child will sooner or later learn to eat almost everything. If they refuse to try something or take something out of their mouth, you can simply say, “you might like that next time” or “you’ll like that when you are a bit bigger”.  But keep presenting a variety of food and offering it to them. Don’t limit your menu based upon their current likes and dislikes. Give them the opportunity to become familiar with new foods and approach them on their own.

I cannot over-state how incredibly liberating it is to follow the Division of Responsibility. Take pride in your job, prepare healthy balanced meals and then relax. Let your child regulate his own eating. He can and he will. You will be shocked at how pleasant and enjoyable family meals can be.

For further reading, I’d recommend, “How to Get Your Kid to Eat… But Not Too Much” by Ellyn Satter.

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