Mastering Mealtime Harmony with Fussy Eaters using Satter's Division of Responsibility.

What is the Division of Responsibility in Feeding?

Satter’s Division of Responsibility of Feeding (SDOR) was developed by Dr Ellyn Satter, who is a dietitian, family therapist, and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding.  It is an evidence-based feeding method used to encourage children to trust and use their natural hunger cues and instincts when eating.  This approach outlines caregiver and child responsibilities related to feeding and eating.  Caregivers decide what food is served, when it’s served, and where their child will eat the food at mealtimes.  Children decide whether or how much they eat.  (Ellyn Satter Institute, 2015).  

How does SDOR apply to fussy eating?

Often in our practise as Feeding Therapists, we see parents who are concerned about what their child is or isn’t eating, so understandably they try to take control of these parts of the mealtime such as asking their child to eat 3 mouthfuls of vegetables before they have dessert.  While sometimes successful, unfortunately, this increases a child’s lack of autonomy and can lead to battles at mealtimes when children try to gain their own control back.  Alternatively, we see parents who are (again understandably) exhausted by the stress of mealtimes and avoid this by letting their child decide where and when mealtimes happen.  An example may be that the child may snack frequently or eat separately from their family. Unfortunately, this may lead to a lack of structure and routine that may impact appetite and learning opportunities.  

We know the SDOR can feel overwhelming to understand and begin for caregivers so here is our attempt to break it down into manageable steps.  Making changes to mealtimes can be difficult so we encourage caregivers to choose only 1-2 changes at a time (for 1-2 weeks).   The way children respond to these changes will be variable.  Some children show an increase in mealtimes exploration within days, others take years. As with anything to do with children it is unpredictable and may even be very variable!   

How to use the SDOR to promote new food learning and support a child’s autonomy at mealtimes?

Our Mealtime Responsibilities Checklist:

Caregivers are responsible for WHAT food is presented:

☐  Serve meals ‘buffet’ style in the middle of the table.

☐  Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes. Ensuring there is always food on offer each mealtime that your child feels comfortable eating and filling up on.

☐  Serve small amounts of non-preferred food alongside preferred foods.  For some children, this may mean the food stays in the middle of the table – as they are not ready to have it on or near their plate yet. 

☐ Serve a variety of different food groups (e.g. dairy, protein, and carbohydrate). Include foods they prefer and foods they are still learning to eat.  (Download our easy-to-use food preference list here).

☐    Keep portion sizes small and encourage your children to ask for (or serve themselves) more if they are still hungry.

☐   Avoid serving the same food, the same way, multiple days in a row. For children who have a  restricted diet, it might mean starting with foods being cut up differently from one day to the next.


 Caregivers are responsible for WHEN Food is presented

☐ Ensure intervals between meals and snacks where there is no food or drinks (except water).    For young children, we recommend approximately 2-2.5 hour intervals between meals and snacks.

☐ Keep mealtimes to an appropriate and consistent length of time. Young children may have difficulty staying seated for more than 10 minutes.

☐ Provide a calm and predictable mealtime routine that children want to be part of.

Caregivers are responsible for WHERE foods of presented.  

☐ Provide comfortable and supportive seating (see video on how to achieve this)

☐   Reduce environmental distractions such as the television, so children can focus on eating and filling their tummies with the food they know how to eat.

Children are responsible for deciding whether to eat and how much to eat.

☐ Allow your child to eat their preferred foods that are available that mealtime and avoid prompts that encourage them to eat more variety such as “take a bite of the carrot”.  

☐ Children’s appetites change from day to day. They may choose to fill up on just one type of food one day. On another day they may eat a larger variety of what is offered. Give your child the space to do this and feel how their body responds.  

☐ Maintain a calm and consistent routine no matter whether or how much your child has eaten. Ensure your child is given learning opportunities to occasionally eat too much or not enough. This is what “giving a child space” to take responsibility for their own eating looks like.

☐ Make eating times pleasant by not commenting on whether a child is eating and how much a child is eating.  Talk about topics that interest the child.

Below we have provided some examples of how SDOR can help overcome some common feeding problems:

You can download our Mealtime Responsibilities Checklist HERE and our SDOR common problems table HERE. Professionals are welcome to share these pages with their clients.

If you would like to know more about SDOR and the 3 other ingredients for mealtime success read about it HERE or join one of our parent or professional workshops

Interested in learning more?    

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