“Eat your peas“
“Eat one more bite for me”
“You can have more bread if you take another bite of chicken”
“Look at your sister, she ate ALL of her peas”
“You can’t have any cake until you’ve finished of you dinner”
Are these common phrases at your family dinner table?
They used to be common at my table too.
Until I learned a better way.
An easier way.
A no pressure way.
Research on child nutrition shows that kids who feel pressured at mealtimes eat worse, not better.
Kids who are coerced to eat peas often learn to detest peas.
Kids who are scolded for overeating often learn to feel shame around food, which leads to even more overeating.
Kids who must finish their chicken before they can have cake often learn to idolize dessert or overeat at mealtime to please adults.
It feels like we’re SUPPOSED to pressure our kids to eat. It feels like it's our job as parents to tell kids what to eat and how much to eat.
But that’s not our job.
What is a parent’s job at mealtime?
Job #2: Trust your child to decide how much and what to eat.
Kids are good at feeling hunger and fullness. Their bodies send strong hunger and fullness signals to prevent under or over eating. If a child is taught to ignore hunger/fullness signals by giving into parental pressure, they might eat more than their body needs. Or they might rebel and undereat! Overtime, this can lead to unhealthy eating habits.
Along with feeling hunger and fullness, children are also good at eating enough variety to meet their vitamin and mineral needs.
In an old 1930's scientific study, children were given balanced meals for several months. Researchers did not pressure or encourage the children to eat any of the food provided. Instead they let the children choose what and how much to eat and recorded everything they ate. Over a period of 6 months, the children ate just the right amount of foods to meet their needs, and they did it without any pressure from adults.
We don’t need to tell kids what to do. Our job is to provide them with healthy foods and sit down to eat with them.
If we want this to work well, we MUST do our job of providing sit-down balanced meals and snacks every 3 hours (read more about balanced meals here).
And we must be consistent about avoiding pressure.
So what do you say when your child only eats bread for dinner?
What do you say when your child won't try their peas?
Check out these ideas from the Choose My Plate website:
Essentially, you want to keep your comments neutral. Simply serve the meal, sit down to eat it with your child, and let them pick and choose from what's there.
What if they don't eat?
It's okay. Don't let them have a snack until the next time you sit down to eat together (read more here in the "sit down snacks" section). By setting limits, you can teach your child to eat only at mealtime.
What about dessert?
That’s a great question for next week’s blog.
See you next week!
P.S. Curious about what I fed my family this week? Here's my menu:
Sunday: leek and potato soup + nectarines + bread with butter
Monday: quesadillas with taco meat + spinach + berries + tomatoes
Tuesday: one pot cauliflower mac and cheese + green salad + apples
Wednesday: sloppy joes + canned pears + green salad
Friday: stuffed zucchini + leftover hummus + tabbouleh + apples
Saturday: pancakes + eggs + frozen berries
snacks? green smoothies, toast with peanut butter, canned pears, yogurt + granola
breakfast? we eat this peanut butter oatmeal almost every day, sometimes eggs