If you want your kids to try new foods you have to stop pressuring them.
Even if pressure gets your kids to eat a few more bites of something, what have you really gained?
- A few more bites in the belly won’t teach your kids to like whatever you’re forcing them to eat.
- A few more bites in the belly won’t make the difference between health and sickness.
- A few more bites in the belly won’t save your kids from starvation. It won’t even keep them sleeping more peacefully through the night.
- And, a few more bites in the belly won’t encourage your child to try new foods.
If your kids don’t eat the way you want them to, you can change things. Trust me, it’s tricky— but you can do it. All you have to do is go against every instinct you have and pull back on the pressure.
Pressure (even if you think of it as friendly persuasion) doesn’t work.
Sometimes pressure can be quite subtle.
Parents have lots of ways of putting on the pressure. I’m not just talking about the kind where you serve last night’s dinner for breakfast. (You don’t do that, do you?) In fact, you don’t have to actively bully, bludgeon, or browbeat your kids to get your point across.
If any of the following statements sound familiar, you may be pressuring your children more than you know:
- My child should eat all of the food on his/her plate.
- If my child says, “I’m not hungry,” I try to get him/her to eat anyway.
- If my child eats only a small helping I try to get him/her to eat more.
- When my child says he/she is finished eating I try to get my child to eat one more (two more, etc.) bites of food.
Research shows you may also be pressuring your children if you:
- Reward them with dessert.
- Show disapproval for not eating.
- Offer favorite foods in exchange for good behavior.
- Withhold food for bad behavior.
Instead of pressuring your kids…
I know it seems like there’s nothing left to do because everything seems like pressure, but don’t despair.
You can encourage your kids to eat a healthy diet and even reward them for doing so. (Just make sure the reward is small, and definitely not dessert. It also helps to reduce pressure if the reward is not immediately after the meal—a small delay works best.)
The key is to foster an environment shaped by a clear set of boundaries and expectations, communication and encouragement. For specific ideas on how to do that read any (or all) of the following:
- Curbing Your Kids’ Craving for Control
- It Doesn’t Matter When Your Kids Eat Their Crap
- 10 Ways Improving Your Kids’ Snacking Will Improve YOUR Life
- You Can’t Feed Your Way Out of a Picky-Eating Problem
- How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life
- Lollypops Whenever They Want?
- Playing For Peas
- When Less is More
- Wheelin’ and Dealin’: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trade Peas for Pie.
- The “Clean Your Plate” Club
- Unleash Your Toddler’s Inner Food Critic!
~Discover your families own path to healthy eating happiness~
Patrick, H., T. A. Nicklas, S. O. Hughes, and M. Morales. 2005. “The Benefits of Authoritative Feeding Style: Caregiver Feeding Styles and Children’s Food Consumption Patterns.” Appetite 44(2): 243-49.
Sud, S., N. Carmela Tamayo, F. S. Myles, and K. L. Keller. 2010. “Increased Restrictive Feeding Practices Are Associated With Reduced Energy Density in 4-6-Year Old, Multi-Ethnic Children At Ad Libitum Laboratory Test-Meals.” Appetite 55: 201-07.
Musher-Eizenman, D. and S. Holub. 2007. “Comprehensive Feeding Practices Questionnaire: Validation of a New Measure of Parental Feeding Practices.” Journal of Pediatric Psychology 32(8): 96–972.
Jansen, E., S. Mulkens, Y. Emond, and A. Jansen. 2008. “From the Garden of Eden to the Land of Plenty. Restriction of Fruit and Sweets Intake Leads to Increased Fruit and Sweets Consumption in Children.” Appetite 51: 570-75.
Galloway, A. T., L. M. Fiorito, L. A. Francis, and L. L. Birch. 2006. “’Finish Your Soup’: Counterproductive Effects of Pressuring Children to Eat on Intake and Affect.” Appetite 46(3): 318-23.