Division of Responsibility: Ultimate Guide for Moms

Learn how to use Satter’s Division of Responsibility (sDOR), a research-backed tool that makes feeding yourself and your kids easier!

Putting the DOR into action for you and your family isn’t always clear or easy, especially if you’ve been dieting for decades or are surrounded by family and friends deep in diet culture. Get powerful DOR insights, tips, and resources by accessing the FREE article below from Amelia Sherry, RD, pediatric dietitian and author of Diet-Proof Your Daughter.


Whether you’re hearing about the Division of Responsibility for the first time or are trying to make sense of what your friends have told you or a post you read on social media, this guide will give you clarity and confidence about how and when to use it with your kids once and for all.

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Within this resource, you’ll learn what the approach is, what the benefits are, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to get some hands-on help when and if you need it. 

This is your chance to learn everything you need to know about the feeding approach that pediatric dietitians recommend and use with their own children—myself included!

What is the Division of Responsibility?

The division of responsibility is a model for feeding children based on the idea that parents are responsible for providing the what, when, and where of eating, while children are responsible for deciding how much and whether to eat.

More specifically, according to the sDOR, parents are in charge of:

  1. Choosing the types of food that are served at meals and snacks. If you’re a parent, ideally you’ll choose foods based on a combination of factors, including your family’s cultural preferences, which foods are available and easy to access and prepare, your family’s personal preferences, and your child\’s nutritional needs.

  2. Deciding when meals and snacks are served, with the goal of providing regular, predictable meal and snack times. The predictability and reliability of meals and snacks are extremely important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

  3. Creating a positive mealtime environment (ie the where of meals and snacks) that is relaxed, enjoyable, and free from distractions. The environment and atmosphere that your child eats in–be it calm and relaxed or stressful and tense–will have a significant impact on your child’s eating habits. 

On the other hand, children are responsible for:

  1. Deciding how much to eat based on their own internal hunger and fullness cues.

  2. Deciding whether to eat a particular food or not, based on their own preferences and appetite.

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Simply put, parents, caregivers, or “feeders” are responsible for the following three aspects of meals and snacks:

  • What foods are offered

  • When food will be offered

  • Where food will be offered

Children or “eaters” are responsible for and decide:

  • Whether or not a food will be eaten

  • How much of a food will be eaten

Where Does the Division of Responsibility Come From?

The division of responsibility is more formally known as the Satter Division of Responsibility in feeding, referred to as the sDOR in research, and was developed by Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian (RD) and family therapist (MS, MSSW). 

Research on the sDOR has been conducted by the Ellyn Satter Institute, as well as several other experts in childhood eating including dietitians, doctors, and psychologists.

What is the Purpose of the Division of Responsibility?

The division of responsibility (sDOR) was designed to help children develop a positive and healthy relationship with food, to eat a variety of foods, and to self-regulate their food intake in a relaxed and supportive environment.

When your child has a healthy relationship with food, they’re much more likely to eat a more nutritious and varied diet which is good for their overall health. They’re also better at self-regulating foods intake, which protects them from disordered eating behaviors and full-blown eating disorders. 

Who Is Involved in the Division of Responsibility?

Parents and children are the primary people involved in this framework. However, other caregivers might also be involved if they\’re with your child at meal time or are educating your child about healthy eating. 

Other caregivers might include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nannies, and babysitters, as well as teachers, after school program leaders, and even coaches. 

In order for your child to get all the benefits (below) associated with the sDOR, it’s important that all caregivers are using it. Make sure anyone who is feeding your child is clear that they do not need to tell your child how much or how little they should eat or force them to try foods. 

What are the Benefits of the Division of Responsibility?

The sDOR has several benefits for both you and your child, according to research. Rest assured, I wouldn’t be writing about it, recommending it to my clients, or using it with my own kids if it didn’t.  Here are some of the key ways using the sDOR can help you when it comes to feeding kids:

Better Eating Behaviors

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that using the sDoR was associated with healthier eating behaviors in children. The study included over 1,500 parents of children aged 2-8 years old and found that parents who used the sDoR had children who were more likely to eat a variety of foods, have a healthier weight, and were less likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. 

Reduces risk of disordered eating

When parents use the sDoR, children are encouraged to listen to their hunger and fullness cues, and they learn to eat for nourishment rather than emotional reasons. This can lead to a healthier relationship with food and a reduced risk of developing disordered eating behaviors.

Reduces mealtime stress  for parents and kids

A study published in Appetite found that using the sDoR was associated with a more positive mealtime atmosphere. The study included 75 parents of children aged 3-5 years old and found that parents who used the sDoR had a more enjoyable, stress-free mealtime experience with their children compared to parents who used a more controlling feeding style.

Reduces picky eating

A study published in Eating Behaviors found that using the sDoR was associated with lower levels of picky eating in children. The study included 72 parents of children aged 2-6 years old and found that parents who used the sDoR had children who were less likely to be picky eaters and more likely to try new foods compared to children whose parents used a more controlling feeding style.

Stabilizes body weight

A randomized controlled trial that included 121 families with children ages 2 to 5 years old published in Pediatrics found that parents who used the sDoR had children who were less likely to gain weight beyond what was expected for their normal growth pattern. Their BMI was more stable compared to children of parents with a more controlling feeding style.

Increases the ability to eat more intuitively

The sDoR emphasizes that parents should not pressure their children to eat or force them to finish their meals. Studies have found that this can reduce anxiety around mealtime and help children learn to trust their hunger and fullness cues.


 

 

Want to Learn the Division of Responsibility?

The sDOR is one of the first things you will learn in NourishHer’s Positive Food Parenting Program. Parents who’ve gone through the program saw major benefits including:

  • Random requests for food decreased by as much as 33 percent!

  • Emotional eating decreased by as much as 33 percent!

  • Pickiness plummeted by 50 percent (aka kids were twice as likely to accept a new food!)

  • Moms reported that their kids were 20 percent better at regulating their food intake!


What Ages Can You Use the Division of Responsibility?

The sDoR can be used with children of all ages, including infants, toddlers, school-aged children, and even tweens and teens. 

From age to age, the sDOR changes slightly with a gradual transfer of responsibilities from parent to child. By adulthood, you are in charge of all aspects of feeding yourself and eating. 

What are Common Mistakes with the Division of Responsibility?

In my experience teaching the sDOR to hundreds of families, I’ve found that there several mistakes parents tend to make:

  • Not Offering Enough Variety 

    While it\’s important to allow children to choose what they want to eat, as a parent you still need to provide a variety of healthy, balanced food options to choose from. If you offer only those foods children will eat, they never get a chance to build confidence with new foods or see you model eating them yourself. The key is to offer a variety of balanced foods in a positive environment, enjoy them yourself, and avoid pressure.

  • Using food as a reward or punishment

    Using food as a reward or punishment can undermine the sDOR and create negative associations with food. Instead, focus on creating positive mealtime experiences and avoid using food as a means of control. 

    Look for other ways to reward your child, such as with your time and undivided attention (promising even just 5 or 10 minutes playing with them, no distractions). Or free time to play, or even small and inexpensive toys or trinkets, such as colored pencils or erasers or other. 

  • Forcing children to try new foods

    While it\’s important to expose your child to a variety of healthy foods, forcing them to try “just one bite” can backfire. Kids who are pressured to eat certain foods tend to eat less of them over time. It can also lead to negative associations with a specific food or family meals in general.

  • Quitting Too Soon

    I’m not going to lie; using the sDOR isn’t going to give you instant results. Many parents give up when it feels confusing, or like it’s not working, and then fall back on old habits. Making sure both parents (and other caregivers) are on the same page and getting outside support, if needed, can help you stick with it long enough to reap the benefits. 

  • Lack of Trust

    The second type of mistakes are due to a lack of trust with food, a problem that really plagues those of us who have been struggling with dieting or disordered eating or weight. 

    One of the reasons the sDOR can be challenging in this case is because dieting and diet culture in general are rooted in distrust–not trust. They teach us to ignore your body cues and distrust ourselves around food. So, teaching our children a different way–and trusting them ourselves–can feel scary and uncertain if we’re not used to thinking about food in this way. 

  • Lack of Structure

    If you\’re fortunate enough to have discovered the concept of intuitive eating, you may make the mistake of thinking that is is the same thing as the sDOR. While the sDOR includes encourages intuitive eating by giving your child the space and trust to listen to their body it is not the same as intuitive eating.

    The sDOR has an extra element of structure. Since children are experienced enough with food, parents are responsible for creating the structure (ie deciding on the time and place) of meals and snacks. Within that structure, kids can eat intuitively or as much or little as they like.

Overall, it helps to be mindful of common mistakes. With patience and consistency, the sDOR can be a really effective approach to helping your child have a happier, healthier relationship with food–and their body, too!

What are the Best Books on the Division of Responsibility?

That really depends on a few things, including the age of your child or children, your goals, and your own history with food, eating, and weight. Below, I’ll refer to what each book might have to offer for specific situations, in addition to whether or not I think it’ll help you apply the sDOR for your family.

“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

If you’re an eager beaver and overachiever, you’ll probably enjoy Satter’s first and most well-known book. This book is considered the classic text on the sDOR, written by the originator of the concept herself. While it does include the most thorough explanation of the DOR, I want to warn you that the book is huge and very dense. It’s filled with a lot of additional information that most parents will find overwhelming and distracting. In addition, it is well over twenty years old and the author uses some outdated language when talking about weight.  

\”How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much\” by Ellyn Satter 

This book is a more concise and accessible version of Satter\’s original work, offering simple strategies for parents to encourage healthy eating habits and prevent picky eating.

\”Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School\” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen

This book offers a comprehensive guide to feeding children of all ages, based on the sDOR framework. It includes practical tips, recipes, and meal plans, as well as advice on handling common feeding challenges. One thing I love about this book is that it’s broken up into chapters by age, letting you dig into the ‘ish that you’re dealing with right now.  The authors also explain how a child’s developmental stage—from infancy to teenage years—may impact their eating behavior as well as what your role as part of the sDOR might be. This is my all-time favorite feeding reference and one that I recommend to parents and pediatricians again and again. 

\”Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating: A Step-by-Step Guide for Overcoming Selective Eating, Food Aversion, and Feeding Disorders\” by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin 

If picky eating behaviors are the core problem you’re trying to solve with the sDOR, then you will find this book insightful and supportive.

Is there a Handout for the Division of Responsibility?

Great question! Yes, there are several handouts on the sDOR available, which can be particularly helpful if you’re a parent who is trying to teach this approach to other caregivers such as sitters or co-parents. I highly recommend printing 

In fact, I recommend printing one and hanging it inside a pantry cabinet where adults can see it as a reminder of how to use this positive approach. (Kids do not need to see it.) Some helpful handouts include:

\”The Division of Responsibility in Feeding\” handout 

This handout, created by Ellyn Satter Institute, provides an overview of the DoR approach and practical tips for implementing it with children of all ages.

\”Responsive Feeding\” handout 

This handout, created by the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides an overview of responsive feeding and the DoR approach, and includes practical tips for parents and caregivers.

Division of Responsibility for Feeding & Activities” handout

Created by the Spoon Foundation


What are the Drawbacks of the Division of Responsibility?

While the sDOR is generally a beneficial approach to promoting healthy eating habits, there are some potential drawbacks to be aware of:

  1. Food Rejection:

    While the sDOR encourages parents to offer a variety of healthy foods, some kids may still be resistant to trying new foods or may refuse certain foods altogether. This can make it challenging for parents, especially if they’re concerned about getting enough nutrients. 

  2. Feelings of Guilt or Anxiety: 

    As a parent, you may feel guilty or anxious if your child appears to not be eating enough. This can create stress and tension around mealtimes, which can be counterproductive to the goals of the sDOR.

  3. Not Always the Answer

    The sDOR may not be the best fit for all families or children, particularly if there are significant feeding issues. Some families may need to adapt the approach to better suit their circumstances and working with a professional trained in responsive feeding might be best.

  4. Lack of Support

    While the sDOR is supported by research, it may not be widely understood or promoted by healthcare providers, schools, or other caregivers. To get the best results, make sure the resources you’re consulting is reliable (ie has the teacher, RD, or program creator been trained by ESI or not?).

Overall, while the drawbacks of the sDOR should be considered, the benefits of this approach tend to outweigh the potential challenges. With patience, consistency, and a focus on balance and moderation, the sDOR can be an effective way to promote healthy eating habits and a positive relationship with food.


What Does the Division of Responsibility Say About Dessert?

Dessert is one of those topics that always seems to get everyone on the edge of their seats, including me! Whether you love to eat it, fear it, or both, you probably never tire of hearing advice about how to handle requests for what’s traditionally been an end-of-the-meal treat!

Luckily, there’s a very specific recommendation which is great news for those of us who tend to get anxious about sugary treats! (I love a good rule-of-thumb when it comes to tough stuff like when to give my kids dessert.)

The official recommendation on dessert from the sDOR is this. If you chose to offer it:

  • Offer dessert alongside the meal (not afterward)

  • Offer just one serving (not an unlimited amount, as is recommended at snack times)

What is the benefit of serving dessert with a meal instead of after?

Many kids (not all, but many) are extra focused on sweets and treats. In fact, kids are primed biologically to crave foods that are energy-dense because their bodies are growing, so if yours asks for sugary desserts often that’s perfectly normal!

Our overall goal for our kids is to help them feel calm and confident around food, to enjoy a variety of food, and to have the skills they need to eat what their body needs to grow and be healthy. With this goal in mind, we want to help kids have a neutral attitude towards sugary treats—not laser-like focus on them.

When we consider dessert something that needs to be “earned” at the end of a meal, we elevate it. We make it seem like a prize or reward. 

To avoid doing this, Satter’s DOR recommends offering a dessert alongside other foods. This helps your kids start to see it more neutrally too. 

Will your kids go for it first? Maybe, especially if it is something they really love and rarely have. That’s not a problem so long as you follow suggestion number two, which is to offer a limited amount. 

What is the benefit of serving dessert one serving?

If we limit the serving amount to just one (one slice of cake, a couple of cookies depending on size, one scoop of ice cream, or a piece of chocolate), we help ensure there’s enough hunger and appetite remaining so that kids can enjoy the other foods that are part of the meal, too.

Personally, at least one of my kids tends to eat MORE of the protein and veggies on her plate at dinner on the nights there’s also something sweet plated for her. I think the sweets entice her to focus on her plate and then those first few bites of sweets stimulate her interest and appetite in the rest of the food at the meal. 

As with any advice, try it out for yourself for a few weeks and see what positive changes, if any you see in your child. Are they less focused, anxious and worried about dessert? Are they eating more of their main meal? Or not?

Do we have to start offering dessert to our kids?

Nope! Not unless you want to.  It’s totally up to you whether you want to start rotating some desserts into your meals. It’s definitely not a must-do—however, if your goal is to help your kids feel comfortable around all foods, then I’d say working desserts into your overall meal plan is an excellent idea.

It’s particularly good for those kids who are extra focused on desserts or who seem to go overboard on portions when eating them. These kids can benefit from more exposure and more opportunities to develop their eating skills when it comes to sweets.

Does watching your kids eat sugary foods freak you out? Or are you worried one or more of your kids seems obsessed with sweets?

You’re not alone! Many of us have a natural urge to limit the sugar our kids have, either because of the constant messages we hear about how bad it is, from our own worry about our kids’ health or weight, or simply because we’ve spent decades restricting sweet treats ourselves. Limiting is not the way to help your child have a good relationship with food, their body or their weight though—in fact, the more we limit these foods the more of an issue they become! If you want to embrace a healthier approach to feeding your kids, join us for a free live workshop or download a checklist or toolkit.


Why is the Division of Responsibility also called the “Trust Model”?

The sDOR approach is sometimes referred to as the \”trust model\” because it emphasizes the importance of trust between you and your child when it comes to eating. 

This is a two-way street. First, your child needs to trust you. They need to trust that you will provide food in a regular and reliable manner and that you will allow them to eat as much or as little as they like, without criticism or comments. 

Second, you need to trust your child. You need to trust that your child will grow into the unique body that is meant for them. You need to trust them to eat as little or as much as their body is hungry for. And you need to trust them to grow with their eating skills over time. 


How Do You Know if the Division of Responsibility is Working?

First of all, the sDOR approach can take time to show results. Just knowing this is an advantage; many parents give up too early because they don’t see progress right away. Be patient and hold firm. 

In the meantime, you can look out for some of these signs that the sDOR is working. After a month of using the sDOR, notice if your child is:  

  1. More Relaxed About New Foods

  2. Less Fixated on Certain Foods

  3. Asking for Snacks Less Often

  4. Eating at a More Moderate Pace 

  5. Hiding or Sneaking Foods Less

  6. Calmer and Happier at Meals

There’s no specific timeline when it comes to how long it will take to see change. In working with parents, I have seen improvements such as kids and parents feeling happier and more relaxed at meals in as little as two weeks. For tougher issues, it can take longer. 

Regardless, getting some professional support implementing the sDOR can make change happen faster and more seamlessly. The sDOR can challenge some of our beliefs about food, healthy eating, and parenting all at once. 


Can the Division of Responsibility Help with Eating Disorders?

The sDOR approach may be helpful in the prevention of some eating disorders, particularly those that are related to food restriction, overeating, or rigid eating patterns. 

However, the sDOR is not a treatment for an eating disorder, particularly if used alone. If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, talk to your pediatrician, therapist, dietitian, or another eating disorder professional who can do a formal evaluation and recommend a course of treatment. 

At some point in the future, your provider might recommend the use of the sDOR in your home with your child; however, it alone is not enough to treat significant eating dysfunction or behaviors, particularly if they are impacting your child’s physical health and well-being. 

For help getting your child evaluated or to learn more about screening for eating disorders, reach out to the National Eating DIsorder Association via their website or helpline. 


What is the difference between the Division of Responsibility and the Division of Responsibility in Feeding?

Nothing. These are two ways of referring to the same model or framework. 

The official name of the model is Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which is shorthanded to sDOR. If you are reading an article that refers to the model with this longer title or acronym, it is more likely to have come from a reputable organization or source familiar with its use and application as well as the latest research.

In recent years, I have found more bloggers and social media posts writing and talking about this framework as the DOR or simply the division of responsibility. However, many don’t seem to understand it well or in depth, which means they have trouble understanding how to apply it correctly. 

This is particularly true in challenging situations such as with extreme picky eating, disordered eating, or to address significant changes in body weight. 

If you’re interested in the approach and struggling to understand it, reach out to me directly (I can provide counseling or a referral to someone in your area), the Ellyn Satter Institute (ESI), or a pediatric dietitian who has been trained in its use. 


Need More Help with the Division of Responsibility?

To find a provider, do a google search for pediatric nutritionist, pediatric dietitian, or child nutritionist “near me” to connect with someone. Once you do, ask them specifically if they have training in the Satter’s Division of Responsibility or the DOR. 

If you’re up for learning online, can join me in the Positive Food Parenting Program where I use videos and interactive coaching to help you become an expert in using the sDOR yourself!

If you’re working on healing your own relationship with food while also trying to raise a child who is a happy, healthy eater, you’ll love the tools, strategies, and personal stories I share to help you on your own journey!


Just Warming up to the Idea of sDOR?

Instagram is a great way to start! Follow me @ameliasherryrd as well as the following accounts, which I love and trust when it comes to learning how to apply the sDOR in your own life: 


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