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Ellyn Satter Interview

Should You Force Kids to Eat Vegetables


kid eating watermelon

Eating Watermelon

Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

So what about sneaking vegetables into food the way Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Lapine recommend in their books?

Satter: "It is a serious issue. Children are so smart they will figure it out. And when they do, they're going to refuse to eat a lot of foods."

So you're saying the strategy could backfire?

Satter: "Yes."

But we parents feel so much pressure from friends, relatives, doctors, etc. to get our kids to eat healthy foods. My doctor recently told me I should make sure I get at least one green vegetable in my six-year-old every day. How can we cope?

Satter: "'Get' is a control word. Parents have to take, not a control stance, but a trust stance. They need to put food on the table and trust that sooner or later, the children will learn to like the food.

"As far as coping with the pediatrician, you just have to know that while the advice might be well meaning, that person is not up on research as far as feeding dynamics is concerned."

What do you mean?

Satter: "A lot of people misinterpret the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Parents should control the what, when and where of feeding and give the child autonomy with respect to choosing what and how much to eat."

Won't they just eat dessert and nothing else all the time?

Satter: "Desserts do have an unfair advantage. The recommendation I make for dessert is that parents put a serving of dessert on the table with everything else at each placing setting, and let the child eat dessert when they want. That could be before, during or after the meal, and once it's gone, they don't get any more."

Isn't that controlling how much kids eat?

Satter: "I'm well aware that that is more controlling than my other recommendations. But I say this because you don't want to set up a forbidden fruit environment.

"If you're going to follow the rule for dessert, it's important for you to find a time when a child can have as many cookies as he wants. The time for that is snack time. It is a planned, sit-down snack. Put out a plate of Oreos and some milk and let the child eat Oreos until he's had enough. He doesn't have to feel cut off.

"It's important that a snack is a structured sit-down snack, not just a food handout. Parents determine when that snack is going to be, so the child is not allowed to beg and graze."

Won't the kids just fill up on Oreos and not eat dinner?

Satter: "Yes, typically the child's eating becomes more extreme before it moderates. The parents have to tough it out for three or four weeks while that child comes to trust the new pattern is going to persist.

"Too often in today's world, the parents' own eating behaviors are pretty compromised. They don't like a lot of fruits and vegetables, so it's hard for them to imagine the child will get to the point where they will like those foods.

"It's hard for them to trust that the child knows where to go with his or her body. It's hard to take anybody else farther than you've gone yourself."

Where else can parents go to get more information and support?

Satter: My web site is helpful. My book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family (Compare Prices) is a good guide for parents.

"They can also call their local dietitians and ask if they are conversant with Ellyn Satter's Feeding Dynamics Model."

For more help, sign up for the Coping with Picky Eaters email class. You'll discover lots of tips and strategies that really work.

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