Part 2: Reducing mealtime battles and improving fussy eating.

Part 2 – As you know, one month ago I started following Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility principles to the letter and you would have seen in my first post, the videos of what “not to do” and “what is recommended”. Thank you for all the positive feedback with part 1 of this blog, I have been inundated with texts, emails, Facebook messages and even at play dates (when meeting new friends who tell me they follow my Facebook page and blog). Wow, the power of social media, thank you for your support and positive feedback and apologies if I have been a bit slow in replying to the emails and texts. I didn’t quite expect it.

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So how has it been in my family? Well here are the first things I noticed when doing DOR:

  • The kids LOVED sitting at the table and chatting with us – seriously, the conversation did not stop and as a Speech Pathologist, I was blown away with the topics and grammatical complexity. If you follow DOR for speech development alone, you will be rewarded with your kids’ efforts at conversation and turn taking.
  • The kids loved the “power” in deciding “what” they ate at the table and “how much”. If they didn’t like what was on offer, they ate huge servings of pasta or rice.
  • They served themselves BIG servings and this is one thing I have been raving on in my circle of friends. Seriously, they ate much more than what I would have pre-plated for them. My little 4 year old “burped” in satisfaction after a meal one night. I don’t track their weight – they are genetically small and that’s okay with me but I wondered if they had put on any weight through this process – they seriously ate a lot which I didn’t expect.

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  • So here are some questions that parents around me have been asking:
  1. What about dessert? if it’s on the table, did they eat it first? Yes, once. And then it lost its novelty. They always ate their main first – because we (adults) were eating main first. And they always ate their serving of dessert after their main meal. And I didn’t ever ask them to finish their main but honestly they often finished (or ate most of) what they served themselves. I have never rewarded with dessert so this wasn’t hard for them. Dessert is always our second course. Perhaps with families where the dessert reward issues are more ingrained, it would have taken longer to get to this point.
  2. What about vegetables? Did they eat them? No, not at first, they were thrilled that they didn’t have to eat it anymore and seriously for the first 3 weeks didn’t touch vegetables at dinner time. This was hard for me – I struggled and often would have to look away or bring up a new topic so I could hide my feelings. And then on the 4th week (day 5), they served themselves lettuce and tomatoes with tacos and since then, have been eating small amounts of vegetables since. This topic could be an entire blog post and the success for us with this depended on the points I listed below….
  3. Did it matter if there was only 1 adult or 2 at the dinner table? No, as you know, our reality is that my husband comes home later so I started eating with the kids and then either ate a small meal with hubbie or just sat with him. The success of DOR lies in the modelling of good eating and I firmly believe you need an adult for this.

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Following this process has raised lots of internal questions for me and during this last month; I have been read and re-read every feeding book on my shelf as well as looked up and read journal articles on the topic.

The success of this process depends on (in my opinion):

  • Trusting yourself and trusting your child with food
  • Analysing your own eating attitudes and competence: my husband and I had long conversations about food and what our parents did and how we have come to where we are with food and nutrition as well as our beliefs around eating competence
  • Honouring the feeding relationship and feeding ourselves (not only the kids) faithfully
  • Knowing how to serve foods that support regulation
  • Enjoying food and cooking creatively

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And that is when I had the lightbulb moment (if you follow my Facebook page, you would have already heard about this) on parent coaching. The journey I went through was one with a background in feeding training. I live and breathe feeding (my friends and family all know that this is such a passion for me). But what about families who don’t live and breathe it? Does it come naturally? Talking to friends with fussy eaters, I don’t think so. So the parent coaching session idea began and if you live in Newcastle and would like to join us with your fussy eaters, then please email me. I would love to have you and coach you through the process of achieving positive mealtimes in your family (which will naturally combat fussy eating – without an agenda).

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Last question that I started with – what about children with sensory processing difficulties, Autism Spectrum Disorders and other special needs including food satiety issues such as Prader Willi Syndrome?

Well I walked about thinking about this question and realised that feeding has so many variables and while DOR is the gold standard, we need smaller steps to achieve this for our kids with special needs.

There are amazing therapists both nationally (think – “SENSE-ational mealtimes” and “Lively eaters” + all the hospital clinics around Australia) as well as internationally (think “STEPS + approach to picky eating”, My Munch Bug, Dr Kay Toomey as well as so many other American blogs that I follow) who help fill the picture of these smaller steps.

Not to mention our gurus in feeding- Suzanne Evans Morris and our Queensland Speech Pathology research team. And that just scratches the surface.

These amazing women also preach a child directed approach to feeding and also treat the children within the attachment feeding sphere that requires more than one discipline (ie Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Dietitian, Clinical Psychologist, Paediatrician + specialist doctors in a team).

Ellyn uses the term “tertiary treatment level for these kids”. It was a great course and I feel so much better equipped in my understanding of the Division of Responsibility. If you would like more info, head to Ellyn’s website, she has parent friendly booklets and courses online.

Until next time,

Happy eating


About the author of this blog post

Valerie is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 13 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She opened a private practice called ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ in 2013 that catered for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and special needs and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ via her website and Facebook page SpeechPathology or email her on