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The Satter Method In Real Life

The Satter Method In Real Life

By Amalah

Found your advice column and launched the Satter method today, making for an extremely difficult day. But I have hope the arguing and negotiating will and must stop with my 4 year old. Just a few questions if you don’t mind me asking. I can’t find these answers on Ellyn’s website.

Question 1: Can a snack be given after dinner/ before bed, even if he’s only had three bites of dinner?

Question 2: Family/friend gatherings (like bday parties) where dessert is often served after the meal. He can eat next to nothing and still eat dessert?

Question 3: Also restaurants…we go out about once every two weeks. His kids meal often comes with enough fries to feed an army. Just leave him to fill up on fries during these occasions, and be okay with him eating 1/2 a chicken finger?

Just want to make sure I’m doing this 100 percent.

Thanks!!
H

Excellent questions! Since I’m not the Honorable Ms. Satter herself (nor do I know her and have never met her), I can only tell you what I personally did in these situations.

Can a snack be given after dinner/ before bed, even if he’s only had three bites of dinner?

If you follow the strictest interpretation of Satter’s method, yes, your child can get dessert without eating any of their dinner. I like the theory/logic behind this — namely, stop holding sweets out as a reward/bribe or something forbidden — but dang, I just couldn’t do it. At least not in a “you didn’t even try the spaghetti but here’s a big piece of chocolate cake anyway” sense. Drove me bonkers. So we’ve always sort stuck with the squishy idea that you need to at least eat SOMETHING on the dinner table — even if it’s mostly whatever default “acceptable” food I’ve tried to incorporate into the meal — in order to have a cookie or ice cream or whatever.

If even that level of compromise sounds too crazy-making to you, then yes, by all means skip “dessert” as a nightly option altogether (at least until you’re seeing some relative progress on the dinner battle front) and offer a healthy snack as much later as possible in the evening instead.

Satter stresses the importance of set, regular snack times, particularly when you first start implementing her methods. (Since as you’ve probably already seen, it’s BIG UGLY wake-up call when your preschooler suddenly realizes he isn’t getting pizza every single night and no amount of hunger-striking is gonna change that.) “He’ll eat when she’s hungry” is not actually a directive to like, purposely starve your child. You need to give him the opportunity to get hungry at least (so no free-grazing on snacks all day, or having a set snack time that’s only an hour before dinner), so the after-dinner snack should ideally be a time far enough away that there will still be some realization on his part that “I’m hungry now, and if I don’t eat anything I’ll have to wait and feel this way for awhile longer, because Mom is serious that she’s not making me pizza.”

Family/friend gatherings (like bday parties) where dessert is often served after the meal. He can eat next to nothing and still eat dessert?

As for the next two situations, I always felt that these fell squarely in the “Make Mealtimes Pleasant” area of the division of responsibility. I wanted my children to enjoy meals in restaurants and enjoy parties and friend/family gatherings. So the food rules are a lot more relaxed. He eats what he eats, even if it’s all fries and birthday cake. It’s just part of the joy of childhood and you can go back to being a hardass tomorrow.

We go out to restaurants about once every two weeks. His kids meal often comes with enough fries to feed an army. Just leave him to fill up on fries during these occasions, and be okay with him eating half a chicken finger?

If you can, look for restaurants that offer a choice for kid meal sides, like applesauce or fruit or even a veggie. Since he’s only four, you can totally order these for him and be like, “sorry there are no fries today.” (Though this means you shouldn’t order fries for yourself, boo.) My kids are all too old for me to get away with this, but (THANKS TO SATTER STICK WITH IT WORKS) now they are all good eaters and will actually choose the “healthier” options over fries on their own sometimes. Of course, they LOVE eating out as restaurants because it means they can order pizza/chicken fingers/mac-n-cheese to their hearts’ content, but I’ll still take choosing the applesauce over the fries as a win. We take what we can get, right?

Photo source: Depositphotos/mbudley

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Published February 5, 2018. Last updated February 5, 2018.
Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

4 Comments
  • IrishCream

    February 5, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    I found the anticipation of dessert made my kids slightly nutty, and therefore less likely to eat a healthy dinner. I tried the Satter suggestion of serving dessert alongside the meal and letting them choose what to eat first (and indeed whether to eat the main course at all). My kids did both go straight for the dessert, but as long as the portion was reasonably sized, they’d still be hungry enough to move on to eat at least some of the main course.

    Four years later, they enjoy the anticipation and will usually save dessert for last, and they’re good about calibrating their intake to get enough healthy calories in but not stuffing themselves so much that they’re forcing dessert in when they’re already full. (They’re seven and five now.)

    • Emily Keller

      February 5, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      I’ve had similar results. Desert is always something small if we even have it so I usually serve the one cookie alongside dinner. Despite what our mother’s told us, one cookie isn’t going to ruin an appetite. Now a whole giant cupcake, maybe 😛

  • Jeffiner Cox

    February 5, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    When I was growing up, we had to eat everything on our plates to get dessert. I am now almost 40, and I still look at my plate and think “ugh, I’m so full, but I have to finish this.”

    We don’t do dessert regularly in our house, but if my husband or I am eating dessert or a snack, we offer some to our daughter. I don’t want her to consider food a reward. I’ve also read that it’s perfectly fine for young children to not eat all of the food groups in one meal – that they need to get them all over the course of a day or so. Sometimes my daughter eats nothing but fries, sometimes she eats nothing but her hamburger patty. The amount she eats varies greatly throughout the day, too. It changes with growth spurts, but she generally eats a medium size breakfast, large lunch, and picks at dinner.

  • Kim Crichton-Struthers

    February 5, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    We don’t have dessert on school nights as there was just too much whining/not eating any supper. On the weekends or special occasions they can have dessert even if very little supper was eaten. On nights we have an early supper or the kids hardly ate we allow them a healthy snack from a limited menu (fruit, yogurt, toast) so it’s not exciting at all.