How to Lessen Anxiety Around Feeding Children and Enjoy Meal Time!

by Dana Snook on July 22, 2016

I don't want to eat that

Today, there is a tremendous pressure on us to feed our children well. Its no surprise with all the pressure we feel it raises our anxiety levels and makes us less likely to be able to relax when we feed them. And forget it, what if your child isn’t growing well, picky or has a medical condition that interferes with them doing a good job with eating? It can send you into even more of a whirlwind around feeding.

Believe me, I see it everyday in my practice. I’m grateful everyday, I discovered Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility of Feeding long before I even had my daughter. Through Ellyn’s teachings, I’ve learned that when a parent has heightened anxiety around feeding their child for whatever the reason (high weight, low weight, or even the fear of health) it makes feeding less enjoyable and more stressful. The children can feel it and they eat less well. The more you can relax and enjoy your child’s eating the easier it can become.

When I say easy, I don’t mean it’s easy. It will take some work and some letting go on your part, but its so worth it. As Ellyn says, “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition will suffer.” It first starts with TRUST, The Division of Responsibility of Feeding is a trust model of feeding. It relies on you to trust your children to do a good job with eating. In practical terms, let go of trying to “get” your children to eat more or less or more fruits and veggies or less junk. The harder you try to “get” them to do anything, the worse the problem becomes.

Do your job with feeding by:

  1. Deciding What to Serve
  2. Deciding When to Serve it
  3. Deciding Where to Serve it

Allow your Child the Opportunity to Decide:

  1. How much to eat from what is served
  2. What to eat from What is served

Instead of believing it’s your job to “get” them to eat, believe in them. They can do it on their own. Trust them that they can learn to sneak up on new foods or eat enough for what is right for their body. Instead of letting fear take the lead, let trust take the lead.

Rachel’s (name changed) is a perfect story to highlight my point.

Rachel came to see me for her daughter that was not growing well. She was born early at 32 weeks and spent the first month of her life in the NICU. She grew well in the NICU and was discharged home. When she got home, Rachel and her husband were so nervous because she was so small. They felt like they had to “get” all her bottles into her. As she got older and started solid foods, it was very stressful for mom, she was concerned she would choke or what if she didn’t eat enough. Feeding became chaotic and forced. She grew less well and started eating poorly leading to poor growth. She fell off her growth curve and was diagnosed with Failure to Thrive. This only heightened the anxiety in feeding her daughter, she would chase her around with food trying to get “one more bite” Again her weight continued to drop off. From the first appointment, we started working with the trust model, trusting her daughter to eat what was the right amount for her. We put her daughter on a scheduled meal and snack schedule only to be eaten at the table with no distractions. The parents only job was to decide what food to serve and help her if she needed it. This wasn’t easy for mom to let go, but when she could relax and started doing her job it made it much easier. Her daughter’s weight stabilized and most importantly she was excited to come to the table for meals and snacks.

This example a child that is underweight, but is the same scenario if a child is perceived to be too big. Children know when to stop and how to self regulate their eating when we trust them to do so.

The most important thing to remember, when your anxiety is high around feeding your child, TRUST them to do good job and everyone with enjoy eating…including you!

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