The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

Don’t you love when people without kids tell you how to feed your kids?

Me too! Except admittedly, that also used to be me.

division of responsibility

As a pediatric dietitian, I spent years advising parents about what and how to feed their children before I had any children of my own. I knew just what the books said, experts recommended, and best foods to offer.

Except that word “offer” meant something so much different to me then than it does now.

Offering foods only to be refused can be exhausting. The whole “offer a new food 10-20 times” rule often underestimates the reality of how long it will take. The endless temptation to either force a bite down or toss in the towel on an untouched plate happens. In fact, it happens at least three times a day and at snacks for most of us.

If you happen to be among the minority who got an adventurous eater from the start, then this post may seem obvious and easy to implement. But for the rest of us, the feeding struggle is real with answers that aren't always intuitive.

This post is to the parent who has been through the trenches trying to introduce their little one to unfamiliar foods and feels ever so unsuccessful. This is for the parent who wants to know what they are doing wrong. This is for the part who’s tried every approach to get feeding right and is still left feeling confused and not confident. This is for the parent who wants to reclaim hope for family meals.

Raising a healthy eaters isn’t for the faint of heart. And yet, it doesn’t have to be just. so. hard.

division of responsibility in feeding

Many parents are prone to push ("three more bites"), entice kids intake by bribery ("if your eat your lunch/dinner, you can have dessert"), engage in food wars (physically forcing bites into an unwilling eater), or take excessive control over their child's eating (by pressuring consumption of "healthy foods").

While in the immediate, it may get the food into your child, these are all ineffective approaches in the long-term. These attempts to get your child to eat do not empower your child to explore and/or eat the food(s) offered, nor do they teach your child to listen to their hunger and satiety cues when determining if and how much they eat. Not to mention, they leave you angry and exhausted over another ugly meal time.

Enter the only approach you need:


The Division of Responsibility

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, The Division of Responsibility is an approach I was trained to teach to others and now choose to practice in my own household.

To many, the division of responsibility approach proposed by The Satter Feeding Dynamics Model may seem alternative and unconventional. When coercion, convincing, and/or control becomes the norm though, many families fail to recognize that an "alternative" way of approaching not just food but also feeding is needed.


This post will introduce you to what the Division of Responsibility is, who’s behind it, and what’s in it for you.

What is the Division of Responsibility in Feeding

The Division of Responsibility is a term coined by Feeding Expert Ellyn Satter. The Division of Responsibility in feeding acknowledges what each the child and the parent are responsible for when it comes to feeding.

The theory of Division of Responsibility posits that children have a natural ability to self-regulate if and what they eat. This approach empowers kids to become competent eaters when given an appropriate eating environment. For an appropriate eating environment to existing, specific roles and responsibilities have to be respected between parents and child(ren) at each stage of development.

As shared on the Ellyn Satter Institute’s website:

The Division of Responsibility for Infants

The Division of Responsibility during infancy is reflected by:

The parent is responsible for what (ie. breastmilk or formula). Parents are to creative a calm and organized feeding environment, and yet adjust the environment to accommodate the infant’s cues for timing, tempo, frequency, and amounts of feeds.

The infant is responsible for how much they choose to eat.

The Division of Responsibility for Toddlers

The Division of Responsibility transitions as infants transition into toddlerhood is reflected by:

The parent is responsible for what the child is fed and increasingly assumes responsibility for when and where the child is fed (based on child's feeding abilities). With traditional spoon-feeding approach, parents guide the child’s transition from nipple feeding through varying textures of solids to finger food and family meals based on what the child can do, not on how old they are.

The transitional child is responsible for how much and whether or not to eat what is offered by the parent.

The Division of Responsibility for Children

The Division of Responsibility during childhood is reflected by:

The parent is responsible for what, when, and where a child is fed. From toddlerhood through adolescence, parents are to facilitate more structured meal times as part of the daily routine. During these stages, parents need to trust their child to determine if and how much they eat.

The child is responsible for how much and whether or not to eat what is offered by the parent.


Who Supports the Division of Responsibility in Feeding

The following agencies all recognize the Division of Responsibility as the best-practice for fostering Eating Competence from a young age:

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics

  • Head Start

  • WIC: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

  • USDA Food and Nutrition Service

  • Expert committee on child obesity


What’s in the Division of Responsibility in Feeding for You

There have been decades of research done on the Division of Responsibility to defend its efficacy to:

  • Establish an appropriate feeding relationship between parent and child

  • Develop positive attitudes about eating and food

  • Trust food acceptance skills that promote variety and a well-balanced diet

  • Support nutritional adequacy

  • Rely on internal regulation skills that support informed food selections, guided energy balance, and body weight

  • Foster skills and resources for managing the food context and orchestrating family meals

  • Don’t you want this? Don’t we all want this?


Raising a healthy eaters doesn’t have to be so hard.

Chances are, what you’re doing at the dinner table is different from what’s written on this post. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have read til this point.

So enter a fist pump, high five, or cheers to you here.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve made a great first step to implementing the Division of Responsibility in feeding. You have recognized you have a responsibility in feeding your family. You have admitted that your current approach towards feeding your kids isn’t sustainable, productive, or keeping you sane. You have put yourself in position to be an active learner.

You’re not just reading a “nice to know” post. You are being equipped on a “need to apply” principle.

The Division of Responsibility in feeding can transform meal times for mother and child.

So take action. Subscribe here to be the first to put eyes on the simple steps it takes to establish a Division of Responsibility in YOUR home.

For more on Parent Feeding Styles and behaviors to adopt, avoid, or use with caution, visit this post for a more comprehensive overview of the Division of Responsibility versus other food parenting approaches.