Getting toddlers and kids to eat healthy foods is one of the hardest things to do as a parent. Dinner time can be a cause of anxiety for parents and kids. Did they eat enough protein? Did they eat their veggies? Everything is a negotiation. And it’s exhausting.
How many times have you found yourself begging your child to take “one more bite,” or finish their plate “or else there’s no dessert!” We’ve all done it. We all do it. But we should all stop. And here’s why:
Teaching your children to take “one more bite,” can be more harmful than good. You’re teaching them to ignore their own body and continue to eat even if they’re full. This is one of the easiest ways for children to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and overeat as adults, which can lead to eating disorders or adult obesity. You’re forcing your child to ignore cues from their own body and overeat because you said so.
In Dina Rose’s book, It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Children, she makes a really interesting point, children who are forced to eat certain foods (to the point where it becomes a full argument), develop such negative feelings towards that food, that even as adults, 72% of them still refuse to eat it.
In 2002 there was a survey done with 100 college students for Appetite, and after asking the college students about their eating habits as children and the link between being forced to eat foods they didn’t want to, “31% experienced strong conflict, 41% moderate conflict, and 29% slight conflict. Forty-nine percent said they cried, 55% experienced nausea, and 20% vomited. Most of the responses to the experience were negative with feelings of anger, fear, disgust, confusion, and humiliation. The forcees also experienced feelings such as lack of control and helplessness.”
As parents, we’re always scared our children are going to go to bed hungry so we’re constantly force-feeding them. Instead of saying “take one more bite,” ask them, “are you full?” or “does your tummy feel full?” You’ll find that most kids will tell the truth.
So back to the million-dollar question, how how do you get your children to try new (or healthy) foods without argument? Put the food in front of them and ask them to try it. And tell them if they don’t like it, they don’t have to finish it. You’re simply asking for them to try it. This helps them feel like they’re in control of their own body. So they tried it and hated it, now what? Try again. Most kids need to try the same food up to 15 times before they decide if they like it or not.
Another helpful tip is to always be consistent. Stop changing the rules on your kids. You can’t say “you have to eat it because I said so,” one day, and the next change it to “because I worked hard to cook for you.” Keep the reason consistent and simple-- if your child asks why they need to eat their dinner, simply say, “because it’s a healthy meal and I love you and want you to eat healthy because it’s good for you.” They’ll eventually learn that you’re cooking healthy meals for them because it’s actually good--and not because you want to torture them at mealtime.