I recently came across The Ellyn Satter Institute: A source for all eating and eating-related science based discourse, which many progressive dieticians use to educate their clients (https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/).
I really like the advice this institute gives about feeding children, which can be the bane of any parent’s existence.
Here is one of the best tips, in my opinion, they provide about the topic of feeding picky child eaters:
No Pressure Eating
You want your kid to be healthy and this involves eating healthy foods. Not only that, it’s a pain in the royal ass to always make secondary meals for your picky eater kids, so often the right answer seems to be to push your kids into eating all of the foods. At the very least, it makes your life easier.
The Ellyn Satter Institute says this pressure parents put on their children often backfires.
Pressuring children to eat more than they want leaves them feeling as though they have zero control over their decisions, which often ends in them rebelling and eating less just to prove a point to their parents. The same is true of restricting their food intake: Restricting their food often results in them eating more than you want them to.
On a similar note, forcing kids to eat certain foods usually makes them do all they can to avoid these foods.
Beyond the psychological component of placing pressure on your children, the overarching school of thought here is that ultimately children instinctively know how much food their bodies need. Some days they eat more than you expect, while other days they don’t seem to be hungry at all. The Ellen Satter Institute’s stance is simply to let the cards fall where they may in this case.
I ask you this: Although you have your child’s best interest in mind, can you imagine someone standing over your shoulder micro-managing your dinner choice every night?
Back to the “control” factor: A new study from the University of Illinois (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666318301545?via%3Dihub) says there’s a quick and easy solution to getting your kids to embrace vegetables, even at lunch time at school when you’re not around: Give them the freedom and control to pack their own lunch!
The lead author of the study Carolyn Stutter explained their findings:
“When the child was more involved in deciding what to pack, their lunches contained more fruits and vegetables across the week and additional servings of vegetables on Mondays. Having the child help decide what they’ll eat for lunch may allow the parent and child to work together to choose fruits and vegetables the child is interested in eating.”
It kind of makes sense: Most of us have at least a small rebellious bone in our bodies, or at the very least we like to feel in control of our lives. Children have very little control over anything in their lives as it is, especially in their younger years, so the semblance of control can go a long way in getting them to comply with your wishes, all the while making them think the celery and broccoli in their lunch was their idea.
The same is true of getting them to eat cooked vegetables: There’s evidence that suggests if children help cook vegetables for dinner they’re more likely to eat them.
And get this: There might even be long term damage done on children whose parents pressure them to eat certain foods, or restrict their food choices too much. This 2002 study “You will eat all of that!: A retrospective analysis of forced consumption episodes” looked at the longer term effects of this (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12071687).
The study examined college students who felt they were “force fed” food as kids, some of whom said it got to the point of feeling nauseous or even vomiting. When asked if they would eat the food their parents made them eat as children, 72 percent of them said they wouldn’t.
Further, one-third of the college students said the pressure they felt as children has affected what they eat as an adult. 73 percent of them said their diet now is limited, and 27 percent admitted their childhood experiences have made them less open to new foods as adults.
Of course, this is just one study, but it kind of makes sense, right?
So the next time you’re frustrated when your kid is kicking up a fuss and refusing to eat and you want to say something like, “Three more bites,” consider letting him walk away from his plate instead.