Mealtime Roles at School

Support students in learning to eat well and help everyone relax and enjoy meals and snacks at school. Download or order our free poster for your classroom, lunchroom, or cafeteria.

Image of students eating together

How the Division of Responsibility can take the stress out of meals and snacks 

Trust and respect are important aspects of meals and snacks at school and are also the foundation of the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding (Division of Responsibility).* Created by Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter, this evidence-informed approach to feeding has been thoroughly researched and is recommended by groups such as Dietitians of Canada and Alberta Health Services. Following the Division of Responsibility supports students in the long-term process of learning to eat a variety of foods and to make food choices. 


What the Division of Responsibility looks like at school 

Clearly understanding and applying everyone’s role at school can take the stress out of eating times and can help students feel more connected with themselves, their world, and their food.  


Parents and other caregivers decide what foods are packed for meals and snacks. In junior high and high school, students gradually take on this role by choosing from foods available at home or purchasing foods at the school cafeteria or nearby stores and restaurants. 

  • The foods students bring to school reflect their families’ needs and resources. Trust that families are doing their best. Each child’s food experiences, abilities, and preferences are different.  


Schools decide when food is eaten. 

  • Schedule meals and snacks at regular and consistent times. 

  • Have water available between meals and snacks. 


Schools decide where food is eaten. 

  • Offer students a clean, comfortable place to eat. In junior high and high school, students are often allowed to leave school property; however, schools should still offer a designated eating space. 

  • Limit distractions such as screens and electronics while eating. 


Students decide whether and how much to eat from what was packed. Learning to let students eat in a way that is right for them is an important part of following the Division of Responsibility. 

  • Trust students to decide whether or not to eat.  

  • Respect students’ decisions about how much to eat. This includes eating food in the order they choose. 

  • Trust students when they tell you they are full or they are hungry for more. 


How to share this information with families 

If families start to practise the Division of Responsibility, continuity in feeding approaches will develop that benefits students at school and at home. Here are some ideas to share the Division of Responsibility with families: 

  • Introduce your approach to feeding during school orientations or parent nights. 

  • Display a poster in eating areas (free download below or order on our Free Resources page). 

  • Have handouts available for families who want to learn more. 

  • Include content from these handouts in family communications (e.g., newsletters, handbook, website). 


Don’t worry if this all feels very new to you 

This approach to feeding may be different from how you grew up. Be patient with yourself and the families represented in your classroom as they learn more about mealtime roles. Feeding and eating are deeply personal and there will be tensions with unlearning old habits and learning new ones.  


Download or order your free mealtime roles posters  

These posters offer a starting point for learning about the Division of Responsibility. As you continue exploring this topic with co-workers, families, and students, be considerate of diverse ways of eating. 

If you suspect a family does not have access to enough food, we recommend speaking to your school guidance counsellor to help facilitate a conversation with the family about potential supports. This conversation is appropriate for adults; children should not be involved.


This article was reviewed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. 

*Ellyn Satter Institute. 2019. The division of responsibility in feeding. Accessed January 22, 2021.  

Get this Resource

Mealtime Roles for Elementary School
pdf icon English December, 2021 pdf (558.96 KB)
Mealtime Roles for Junior High and High School
pdf icon English December, 2021 pdf (520.8 KB)
Les rôles à l’heure du repas au secondaire
pdf icon French December, 2021 pdf (537.16 KB)
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