Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: Raising Competent Eaters

We want our children to be healthy, but continually letting them know what and how much they are “supposed to” eat only creates tension, and resistance.

According to Ellyn Satter, a family therapist, nutritionist, and recognized expert on eating and feeding, telling our kids how to eat is definitely not the way to go.

Sharing Responsibility

Satter has found that children naturally consume the amount of food needed to grow in a way that is right for them when families adopt a “division of responsibility” in feeding.

With toddlers, children, and teens, the division of responsibility is this:

  • Parents are responsible for what foods are prepared, when the family eats, and where.
  • Children are responsible for how much they eat, and are free to pick and choose from the foods served.

Following this division of responsibility creates a mealtime atmosphere that is pleasant, flexible, and positive, and allows kids to gradually develop eating competence.

A Forkful of Competence

A competent young eater enjoys family meals, feels good about eating, and is motivated to do so. They eat as much as they need to, and over time learn to enjoy a wide variety of foods.

To cultivate children’s eating competence parents need to choose and prepare foods, provide regular meal and snack times, model and teach how to behave at the dinner table, and be patient with children’s lack of food experience—without catering to their likes and dislikes.

Satter has found that competent eaters of all ages do better nutritionally, are more active, and sleep better than those who fret about what and how much they consume. Competent eaters also tend to be more self-accepting and self-aware in all areas of their life.

Matter of Trust

The eating principles Satter advocates are based on both research and experience, and fall within the bounds of common sense. If her ideas appeal to you, there is more to learn at the Ellyn Satter Institute website (link below), where you will also find links to the books she has written.

In her books, Satter emphasizes the need to help our kids develop healthy eating habits without making them fearful of food, and without causing them to distrust their own instincts.

“People with high eating competence feel more effective, are more self-aware and are more trusting and comfortable with themselves and with other people. That is not surprising. In raising children to be competent eaters, we raise them to be competent people.” ~ Ellyn Satter

Sources: Ellyn Satter Institute
Photo credit: Emran Kassim

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