Episode 036: Carol Danaher – Ellyn Satter Institute – The Importance of Family Mealtime

Carol Danaher is Board President and Faculty at the Ellyn Satter Institute. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master in Public Health from Johns Hopkins. She co-founded the Childhood Feeding Collaborative, of Santa Clara County, CA, creating partnerships and training in feeding dynamics for pediatric service providers of all kinds. Carol worked at the national level at the United States Department of Agriculture evaluating child nutrition programs. She consults with childcare programs helping them design and establish positive feeding policies and environments. She is an experienced educator. Volunteer work in the 1970s in Jakarta, Indonesia led to her interest in Public Health. Carol was a Girl Scout leader for 12 years. Carol has two married child, and a toddler aged grand daughter.


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From This Episode Ellyn Satter has established an understanding of the “Division of Responsibility” when it comes to feeding our children:

Parents’ role: WHAT, WHEN, WHERE to eat.

Child’s role: IF, and HOW MUCH to eat.

Competent eating has to do with our ability to listen to our bodies’ needs, perceiving satiety (fullness), and appetite. Social cues, or parents dictating whether a child should eat certain food, and how much, creates a power struggle. This pressure creates a dissonance between the parent-child relationship, and the child’s capacity for eating competence. Most issues arise from either the parent or child taking over the other’s role. When parents apply too much pressure, or when children are allowed to decide what and when to eat, there is confusion in the roles that make eating competence for effective. Families who eat together three to five times a week, regardless of what meal or what is being served, have been shown to be more resilient, and have a myriad of other benefits. Carol referred to a study done by Columbia University on the influence of family meals on adults likelihood toward substance abuse. And if you do a google search of the importance of family meal time, you will find lots of support! Here are a few references from the Ellyn Satter Institute site: “Not all family meals are perfect; eat together anyway” “How long should my child stay at the table“Everybody does better with family meals” “Getting started with family meals” The definition of a family meal is just four key elements:

  1. People sit down and face each other
  2. the same food is offered everyone
  3. the conversation is pleasant
  4. no media distractions

Meals can be breakfast, take-out meals, anything that meets these four criteria. Meals need to reflect your family’s needs, be regularly spaced, and regulated by parents. In the Ellyn Satter model, foods are not labeled good or bad. Sweets and treats are neutralized as neither good nor bad. Parents limit the amount of sweets allowed during a meal, and allow them occasionally without labeling them or rationalizing. It’s ok to let our kids eat their holiday treats for the first couple of days! Check out an article on Halloween candy: “The sticky topic of Halloween candy” Kids will outgrow the desire to binge on treats when they are a non-issue. Tune in to this episode for even more tips and tools. Where to Find Ellyn Satter Institute ellynsatterinstitute.org Facebook Instagram Ellyn Satter Institute Webinars (Particularly, the “ABCs of Child Feeding”) Recommended Books Ellyn Satter Books “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook” by Ellyn Satter “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense” by Ellyn Satter

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About the author, Jodi

I live in Richmond, Virginia with my husband, Michael, and our four young kids. We homeschool, and work remotely, so I guess we may take this on the road some day! I have a bachelor's degree from George Mason University in Health Promotion Studies, but I attended five different universities before finally finishing while I was expecting my third baby! I'm a returned missionary from the Hawaii Honolulu Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm sort of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, but I do enjoy reading personal development and parenting books, finding new ways to enjoy exercising, and learning more about being an entrepreneur.

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