Setting Food Boundaries: The Kitchen is Closed

Often, in my sessions with parents and their children, I use phrases to help support healthy changes around feeding and eating.  One of the strategies that has been particularly handy for parents is to set food boundaries, such as:

The Kitchen is Closed.

Is your kitchen always open, always a mess, always in production?  Ever wonder if this is healthy?  Sustainable?  Or the makings for a crazy momma-lady and an out of control eater?

While some parents may believe that closing the kitchen is a cruel act toward children, I find it to be a healthy way to set limits.

The kitchen is closed:


  • allows for space between meals and snacks
  • encourages predictability with timing of meals and snacks
  • supports the foundation of structure and rhythm for daily meals and snacks
  • promotes food security in children, through knowledge that food will be available at predictable times

If the kitchen is always open:

  • No limits are set around food and eating
  • It’s “food for everyone, all of the time”
  • Regular and rhythmic eating may change to impulsive and less intuitive eating
  • Overeating becomes a strong possibility

The kitchen is closed is particularly useful when you have done a good job at providing meals and snacks to children in timely intervals.  Make sure you have regular times when “the kitchen is open…for breakfast, for snack, for lunch, etc.”  Then, when your child comes to you an hour after eating dinner, wanting something else to eat, the kitchen is closed is a clear boundary. If this is initially upsetting to your child,  assure him/her that another meal or snack will be available soon.  Encourage your child to eat at meals and snacks, when the kitchen is open.  Soon, your child will learn to eat at meal and snack times, learn to do other things in between, and feel secure that his/her hunger and nutrient needs will be met regularly.

Comments

  1. says

    Great article! My mum always used this logic when we were kids and it worked well. It certainly helps with setting limits for children and encouraging them to eat at meal times, whilst keeping them hungry enough to eat their dinner.

    • says

      So true, Sarah! I use this phrase frequently with my own 4 children; I only have to say it once and they know exactly what I mean. They also know that I follow through with meals and snacks on time too.

      • says

        We were exactly the same! There was no point in asking for food once the kitchen was closed because we never got it.
        Will be using this once my boy is older.

  2. Kathy says

    Hello,
    A quick question after reading your blog – how do you reconcile the Satter approach to letting children eat as much of a portion as they want with portion control? This is difficult to navigate, do you have suggestions on how to serve and encourage appropriate portions without making a child feel limited. She also suggests lots of bread and butter . .. . I guess I’m having a tough time with parts of her approach and instilling good habits. She also seems to down play the negative emotional consequences of a child being overweight. I’m very interested in her approach as I have a child who, while she is not overweigh, LOVES to eat and sometimes seems obsessed with food and I’m simultaneously concerned about making the obsession worse and contributing to a potential overeating/weight problem, and offering my child support that is in her best interest even if this may seem hard and limiting at times.
    Thank you, any information you can provide would be helpful and appreciated.

    • says

      Hi Kathy, Thanks for your question–it is a good one, and one that i get asked fairly frequently. First, “portion control” is a term I use lightly with children–in fact, I prefer “portion awareness”, because, when parents and/or children try to control their portions, they may override their own hunger and fullness, and end up feeling deprived and eating more. Satter’s approach merely encourages parents to provide a balanced meal (ie, most food groups), and allows the child to choose what and how much to eat…and over time the child will gravitate to balanced intake, experimenting with new foods, and eat amounts that reflect their hunger, food preferences, and appetite. Bread and butter can be part of the meal, but it doesn’t have to make an appearance every night. There are other starchy grains that can rotate through your weekly menu. You can teach portion awareness by preparing foods in reasonable portions, ie, prepare 3-6 oz. portions of meat, place them on a platter, and serve. Your child will likely take one, but there will be more if hungry. Some foods don’t portion well like this, and you will have to trust the child to take what is right for him/her. Mealtime is an opportunity to talk about hunger and fullness, and this can help your child tune into this feeling and learn how to make decisions about more to eat or not. This is a process that pays off over time. Teaching and trusting your child to self-regulate is a gift–many adults do not self-regulate–they rely on external cues, such as time on the clock, food rules, diets, and the scale to regulate their eating. No fun! Cultivating those internal cues in your child is an act of trust and faith; provide a variety of food, keep the environment positive, and encourage your child to tune into their body’s needs.

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