Two more bites. We’ve all done it. Urged our kids to eat more at meal times.
In one study of kindergarteners, 85% of parents tried to get their kids to eat more. In fact, the researchers concluded that an overriding goal of the majority of parents of young children is to get their kids to eat more during meals.
Pressuring kids to eat more CAN work, but it doesn’t always.
This kindergartener study found that 83% of the kids ate more following parental pressure than they would have had they not been pressured. On the other hand, other studies have found that kids eat more when they aren’t being pressured than when they are.
Not all tactics are equally successful and MOST are just as likely to succeed as they are to fail.
Researchers found the kindergarteners actually ate more when their parents used neutral prompts – “Don’t forget to eat your meat,” – than when they applied direct pressure – “When I say eat, you eat!” or when they threatened to withdraw privileges – “You don’t eat, you can’t ride your bike.”
It’s ironic we spend our children’s toddler years urging them to eat more and their teen years worrying whether they eat too much. Is there a connection?
Researchers believe that children have an innate capacity to regulate their consumption of food. That is, unless their parents encourage them to subvert their internal cues of hunger and fullness in favor of external cues, such as their parents’ desire for them to eat more.
Only your child knows how much he needs to eat.
Sure there are nutritional recommendations about how much your child should consume but they are all based upon growth rates and activity levels. If you don’t know what those are on any particular day you can’t possibly know how much your child should consume. Let him decide how much he eats.
Pressuring your child to eat yields meager nutritional gains, but the damage to your child’s eating habits can be lasting.
Research has found that getting your kids to eat something, such as vegetables, by giving them dessert increases the desirability of dessert and decreases the desirability of the vegetables.
One study of college students founds that 72% of the students who had been forced to eat food as a child said they still wouldn’t eat that food today.
What you can do instead.
- Increase your child’s exposure to new foods; it’s the tactic that’s been shown to work the best.
- Use gentle, neutral pressure to get your child to eat – “Don’t forget the peas.”
- Figure out why your child isn’t eating. There are only 3 possibilities:
1) He’s not hungry because of a recent snack. In this case, alter snack time.
2) He’s not hungry because he’s not hungry. Let him eat the amount he wants.
3) He’s not eating because he’s distracted, or wants to eat later, or wants something different to eat. In these cases, teach your child to eat at meal times. (See My Child Won’t Eat in a High Chair and Why Won’t My Child Eat Dinner? for some specifics on how to do this.)
I would love to hear from you:
Were you pressured to eat when you were a child? If so, how did you feel about it and have there been any lasting effects?
Do you ask your kids to eat more because you worry they’ll lack proper nutrition if they eat the amounts they want?
Do you believe you need to teach your children how much they should eat at mealtimes?
Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.
Batsell, R. W., Jr., A. S. Brown, M. Ansfield, E., and G. Y. Paschall. 2002. “”You Will Eat All of That!”: a Retrospective Analysis of Forced Consumption Episodes.” Appetite 38: 211-19.
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.
Orrell-Valente, J. K., L. G. Hill, W. A. Brechwald, K. A. Dodge, G. S. Pettit, and J. E. Bates. 2007. “”Just Three More Bites”: an Observational Analysis of Parents’ Socialization of Children’s Eating At Mealtime.” Appetite 48(1): 37-45.