child development

Pressuring Your Picky Eater to Eat Doesn’t Actually Work, Says Study

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At one point or another in your life as a parent, you will experience picky eaters. Maybe it’s your toddler, whose fickle palate loves something one day and hates it the next. Or maybe it’s your school-aged kid, who comes home one to day announce that they suddenly hate the lunch they’ve been eating for 3 months. For a lot of parents, meal times are the worst. It’s a constant struggle to get their kids to eat anything not shaped like a goldfish or processed to hell and back. Our first instinct may be to pressure feed them. In other words, we use our Batman voice and force them to eat whatever it is they don’t want to eat. Turns out, we’ve been doing it all wrong. According to a new study, pressuring your picky eater to eat isn’t effective. Like, at all. Back to the drawing board, folks!

Picky eaters cause parents a lot of stress. We want to feed our kids good food! We want them to be nourished and healthy! But forcing them isn’t the way to go.

Dr. Julie Lumeng is a Michigan pediatrician who authored the picky eaters study. According to Dr. Lumeng, we all just need to chill out. Dr. Lumeng says, “Parental pressure is having no effect, good or bad, on picky eating or weight in this population.” All that coaxing, begging, threatening, and bribing? Doing absolutely bupkis. And many of us know this! Yet still, we do it. We do it because we’re worried that our kids aren’t getting the nutrition they need. We do it because we’re afraid of being judged for our parenting skills. No one wants to waste food, so we force our kids to eat it! But not only does pressure feeding have no bearing whatsoever on a picky eater’s eating habits, it might actually have the opposite effect.

When we’re too focused on our kids eating every bite of food, it backfires.

You might be familiar with this phenomenon if you’ve potty trained a toddler. The more you push, the harder they push back. Kids are just delightful in that regard. Additionally, forcing a child to eat something they don’t like won’t make them like it. Yes, kids need to eat their veggies. And most will (eventually) grow to love them! But if you force them down their throat, they are never going to develop a palate and appreciation for them.

So what can do about picky eaters?

Best advice? Just ride it out. Keep introducing new foods, but don’t lose your mind if your kids rejects it. When you make a meal, you don’t have to tailor it to your toddler’s preferences, but try to include at least one or two things they’ll eat. Make mealtimes fun, and allow your kids to play with their food a bit! Also, when they’re old enough, get them involved in meal prep and cooking. But most of all, don’t stress. Children’s eating habits change all the time, especially as toddlers. Be patient, and ride it out. They’re going to be fine, and no, they won’t live on goldfish crackers, string cheese, and fruit snacks forever.

Parents of picky eaters, I stand in solidarity with you. I have one, and it’s not easy! But let’s try to exercise a bit more patience, and pull back on the authoritarian dinner antics. They’ll come around … eventually.

(Image: iStock/MarkoNOVKOV)