How many times have you prepped and prepared a meal, pouring some heart and elbow grease into it, only to have your children turn up their noses to the delicious, edible food you've presented to them? "I don't like that," just echoed menacingly in your mind, didn't it? We all know some parents could give a hoot if their kids eat spinach or get enough veggies in and we all also know someone who is constantly worrying about that toddler in their life that just won't budge on those oh-so-important veggies. Worrying about our children's nutritional well being is a top priority for most of us parents, so that's understandable. In an ideal world our children wolf down their broccoli with a smile on their faces but in reality, they probably turn up their noses far too often and demand a microwaved hot dog.
The pressure to ensure a properly balanced diet is real and often leads to unhealthy relationships with food, crying and begging our kids to finish their dinner, and a whole world of "don't you dare move from that seat until you've taken another bite of those carrots, mister." However, in a new study that was recently published in the journal Appetite, all that fussing is probably in vain and may even be more harmful than helpful!
According to Ellyn Satter, MS RD LCSW BCD, a researcher and practitioner in the field of pediatric feeding practices, children and parents each have their own jobs or responsibilities when it comes to food. Parents, for example, are tasked with providing or offering healthy foods for both meals and snack times. The kiddos? All they have to do is decide what and how much to eat. If your options include unhealthy choices and your children also watch you eat unhealthy, they are less likely to be adventurous with their foods. Even more frustrating, the typical child needs to try a food anywhere from 10 to 15 times before they're able to accurately determine if they like it.
All of that packed into our heads but when we've slaved over the stove to create a balanced, nutritious meal and then our kid sits there and poo-poo's the whole thing we are sure to find ourselves frustrated enough to try and pressure our kids to eat. However, science has determined that the practice of pressuring those picky eaters into eating those foods we know are tasty... doesn't work! What is truly astonishing though was that it was also determined that when we force our kids to eat those foods, it doesn't affect any outcomes later in life. None.
What's even more important than how unimportant it is to get your kids to try those sweet potatoes is that when we pressure and force our kids to do something they don't want to do, it can have long-term negative psychological consequences and even damage our relationships.
Dr. Julia Lumeng is a pediatrician and professor as well as the author of the recently published study and she had this to say:
Parental pressure is having no effect, good or bad, on picky eating or weight in this population. The kids’ picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not.
The study was well managed, following 244 ethnically diverse toddlers and their parents. Researchers compared the pressure tactics of parents to the children’s healthy growth and the eventual reduction of picky eating and found zero evidence to support the position of forcing kids to eat foods they don't want to or to completely clear their plates!
Dr. Lumeng said:
We found that over a year of life in toddlerhood, weight remained stable on the growth chart whether they were picky eaters or not.
At the end of the day don't think of yourself as a permissive parent if you let your kid be a little choosy about their meals and snacks. Rather, as long as you are offering a wide variety of nutritionally rich foods and meals, then you're doing the right thing... backed by science! Your kids will figure it out eventually and you'll be a lot less stressed out over the whole situation. Your kids won't starve themselves and the more healthy choices they have to choose from, the more likely they are to choose them! And don't forget, you have a personal responsibility to set a good example and eat your healthy foods, too.
Dr. Lumeng also suggests using words like “choosey” or “selective” instead of “picky” in order to keep your child’s associations with food and mealtime more positive!
Go now and be free of the burdens once set before you, you and your kids will be just fine.