The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 5 minutes

What should you know about picky eating and the Division of Responsibility?

  • What is the Division of Responsibility

  • How can you use the Division of Responsibility for your baby and your toddler

  • Tips to help make using the Division of Responsibility easier

Having a picky eater can leave us feeling frustrated and anxious.

The good news is that with some patience and commitment, using the Division of Responsibility (DOR) can help take the stress out of mealtime and bring your little one closer to being a more adventurous eater.

What is the Division of Responsibility?

The DOR is a feeding model developed by Ellyn Satter, a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist, and Family Therapist;1 and is recognized as best practice by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.2,3,4

By following the DOR, you (the caregiver or parent) are responsible for providing nutritious foods at meals and snacks (the what, when, and where of eating). Your child then takes the lead by deciding how much of that food to eat, whether they will eat it at all (the how much and whether of eating).5,6

Breaking it down: You and your child’s jobs within the Division of Responsibility

What: You prepare balanced meals and snacks for the family.

When: You decide what time meals and snacks will be. Keep them at consistent intervals and try not to allow eating between.

Where: Sit-down meals and snacks are best. Aim to have your child sit in the same place for each meal and snack to help build a routine and good meal-time behavior.

How much: Of the foods you provide, your little one will decide how much of each food to eat.

Whether: Your little one may decide not to eat one or all of the foods provided.

Tips: Keep mealtimes positive and relaxed. No need to worry if your little one doesn’t even try some of the foods provided.

Model appropriate mealtime behavior, reflecting your own family values and traditions.

Patience is key here as you allow your child to decide how much or how little their body needs, following their naturally strong internal hunger and fullness cues.7

Read more: Helping Your Child Build a Taste for Healthy Foods

What are the benefits of the Division of Responsibility?

Research shows that families who follow the DOR are more likely to have children who are competent eaters.8

A competent eater is a child who:

  • Has a positive and healthy relationship with food and eating

  • Eats the amount that is right for their body

  • Learns to eat food from the family table

  • Behaves appropriately at mealtimes8

How do I use the DOR for my baby?

During infancy, parents determine what the child eats (breastmilk or formula), while the child controls the where, when, and how much.7

Tips: Pay attention to your baby’s feeding cues and feed when baby shows hunger signs.

Let your baby indicate which position is most comfortable, and then let them feed however they need to: Slow, fast, steady, or stop-and-go.7

Allow your little one to show you when they are ready to stop.9

Read more:

Should I Formula Baby On Demand or on a Schedule?

Should I Breastfeed On Demand or on a Schedule?

How do I use the DOR when starting solids?

As your baby starts solid foods, you determine what and where your child eats while your child decides if they are going to eat and how much they will eat. At this age you share the responsibility of ‘when’ as you slowly transition away from on-demand feeding toward a more regular schedule with solid foods.7

Tips: Be conscious of your little one’s hunger and fullness cues; don’t force them to eat if they seem full or disinterested.9

This is a time of exploration: let your baby try many new foods and textures.10

Continue to introduce foods over and over; it may take 10 tastes or more before your little one begins to accept it.12

Read more: Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

How do I use DOR for my toddler?

Your toddler wants to do everything on their own at this age! When it comes to food, you want your little one to start exerting their independence and feed themselves. You are responsible for what, when, and where your child eats, while your child will decide how much and whether to eat.7

Tips: Part of the DOR is making sure you don’t pressure your little one to eat. Making your child eat when they don’t want to may create eating struggles that could last for years.7,9

Family meals play an important role in the DOR. Think about planning one meal for the family, including at least one food that you know your little one will eat. Family meals also allow you to model healthy eating.13 Your little one will follow your lead, making it more likely they’ll try the foods they watch you eat.12

Children who participate in shared family meals have been shown to have healthier eating patterns and are more likely to be within a healthy weight range.9,11

Read more: Family Meals: Developing Healthy Eating Patterns

Tips for using the Division of Responsibility to help prevent picky eating

Use the Division of Responsibility consistently

In addition to fostering healthy eating habits, sticking to the DOR principles will help your child know what to expect when it comes to eating. Using it over time will allow you to eventually see results and your picky eater may begin to be more adventurous.

Have questions about your picky eater? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!

Establish age-appropriate meal and snack patterns

Introducing solids can be different for different babies. Some babies are eager for opportunities to eat solids, while others take time to come around to try new food consistencies and flavors. This is entirely normal.

Aim to keep meal and snack times consistent as your child works their way up to 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks per day (often by 12 months and beyond). Try not to let your little one eat within 1 to 2 hours of a meal so that they come to the table hungry and ready to eat.15

Read more: 4 Tips for Making Easy, Nutritious Snacks for Moms and Toddlers

Make smart food choices for your child

Offer a variety of wholesome foods at meal and snack times. Emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and proteins for the entire family.16

Read more: Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipe and Snack Ideas

Don’t cater entirely to likes and dislikes

Offer a variety of foods knowing that sometimes a favorite will be on the menu and other times it will not.

Include familiar foods

Babies and children often accept new foods when paired with foods they already know and like.1

So when you’re meal planning, make sure to include at least one food each family member accepts (this can be as simple as placing whole grain bread on the table alongside the main dish and sides).

However, avoid offering alternatives for the main dish as this may send the message that you don’t expect your child to learn to like new foods.

Trust your child’s intuition (unless there’s a known feeding issue)

Trust that your child will eat what they need and allow them to have as much or as little of the foods you offer. Don’t worry about your child occasionally skipping a meal or snack altogether.

As long as you offer foods at consistent times from day to day your child will have plenty of opportunities to get the nutrition they need over time.

Read more:

Feeding Tips for Healthy Weight Gain in Babies and Toddlers

When it’s More Than Picky Eating: 4 Warning Signs

Encourage your child to try new foods but don’t pressure

Studies show that pressuring children to eat “healthy” foods such as vegetables can backfire, causing them to be even less likely to eat those foods in the future.14

Let your child choose what they want from the foods you put on the table or their tray. It’s perfectly fine (and normal) if your child only eats one or two of the foods you offer.

As you serve different foods at the family table, encourage everyone to have a taste, but reassure them that they don’t have to, there will be other opportunities!

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles and recipes:

How Can I Get My Baby to Love Veggies?

Introducing solids: First foods and Advancing Textures

Family Dinner Ideas: Fun and Easy Interactive Meals to Make with Your Child

Strategies for Creating a Healthy Kitchen for Your Family