Every parent of a fussy eater faces the ultimate dilemma: do you let them off the hook if they don’t eat their greens or do you make them eat all the food on their plate, even when they don’t like it?
A new study suggests pressuring kids to eat their food might actually damage your relationship with them, so taking a laidback approach could be best.
University of Michigan researchers said insisting that children eat foods they don’t like isn’t linked to weight change or their behaviour towards food changing. But actually it could be far more problematic, causing meal-time tension and damaging the parent-child relationship.
Lead author Julie Lumeng, physician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Michigan, said: “In a nutshell, we found that over a year of life in toddlerhood, weight remained stable on the growth chart whether they were picky eaters or not. The kids’ picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not.
“Then we asked if pressuring led to a decrease in picky eating, and it didn’t. There was no link between pressuring and picky eating and any of these other outcomes.”
Recalling an anecdote from her own childhood, Lumeng said one night her mum served both of her sisters peas, but served her carrots: “She said to me, with such loving kindness, ‘I’m serving you carrots because you don’t like peas.’ I felt very loved and respected, and I will always remember that she said that.”
The physician also noted that we don’t call selective adults picky, but we hold kids to a different standard even though taste is at least somewhat hardwired and beyond our control to change at any age.
“The takeaway here is that pressuring children to eat needs to be done with caution and we don’t have much evidence that it helps with much,” she continued. “As a parent, if you pressure, you need to make sure you’re doing it in a way that’s good for the relationship with your child.
“Dealing with picky eating falls into the category of how can you do little things that might make meals better for everyone, but not squelch something that may be part of your child’s personality.”