Should You Force Your Kids to Eat Their Peas?

I can assure you that normal growth and development are possible without eating ANY vegetables EVER.  If “clear your plate” or “you must eat the green beans or you are grounded” is something you usually tell your children, then you may want to hear what I have to say first. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, parents who force their kids to finish everything served on their plates may be doing more harm than good.  Forced eating disrupts normal eating behavior and sensors, making children vulnerable to unhealthy weight gain and eating disorders in the future. “In order to promote the development of normal eating behavior, it is important for children to decide how much they want to eat. “If children are pushed to eat everything on their plates, they may stop relying on their own body’s signals, and eat until the parents are happy,” the study said.”  

“What You Are Actually Telling Your Child When You Force Them to Eat Their Veggies (or green beans in this case)

  1. Don’t trust your body, someone else knows what is best for it.
  2. Vegetables are something to be choked down and disliked. Too bad, eat them anyway.
  3. Being healthy is really just about eating your veggies. It’s not about giving your body the fuel it needs or eating a variety of foods that taste good to you.
  4. Dinner is not meant to be an enjoyable family experience, but a battle of wills. I am the parent I am in control.
  5. Join the clean plate club and continue eating even when you are no longer hungry. How many people do this.. and are overweight?

Here are a few tips to keep the dinner table from being a Battle

  Do Not Force Your Child to Eat Turning the dinner table into a battle station may lead to other issues with food later on in life. Forcing children to eat reinforces poor eating habits such as eating when they aren’t hungry or cleaning the plate when they’re already full. Rewarding your child for eating, punishing your child for not eating, or forcing your child to eat can reinforce poor behavior. Besides causing an unpleasant mealtime environment, these behaviors can create a picky eater or result in your child becoming overweight. You want eating the right foods to be a pleasant experience, not a command. Lower your frustration and anxiety about it, and chances are your kids will be more relaxed and receptive. Keep Introducing New Foods It’s been shown that it can take a dozen or more times of introducing a new food before children get accustomed to it. So, don’t give up if they don’t like something the first time. The 5th time etc.. they will grow out of it or they won’t. Do you have foods you hate? How would you feel if you were forced to eat that food … it’s a power thing.. stop it! Remember,  even one or two bites of a veggie can be a victory for you as it slowly builds their acceptance of that taste. Give Kids a Sense of Control being able to pick and choose from what has been prepared. I practice this strategy with moderation. I try to make a couple of things the kids don’t absolutely hate and attempt to offer as much choice in the matter as possible. Then I make a salad or veggies and they are offered but not forced. After all more protein and healthy fats never hurt anyone. For snacks, offer a wide range of healthy options for children to choose from. Snacks that are always available if they decide not to participate in dinner.. this way they are at least eating something you approve of, even if it’s not the meal you wanted them to eat. Eat The Way You Want Them To Eat The only real way to win the healthy eating battle with your kids is to do it yourself all the time. If you are persistent and consistent about serving the food that you want them to eat, eventually they will come around or at least half way around.. It will be slow, but it will happen.. and you might be surprised.. they may even school you.

oh and one more thing:

Bribes are inappropriate as well – when a child refuses her vegetables. Saying – “If you eat the vegetable – I will give you cookie” will convince your child that a cookie is the best thing in the world, that vegetables are the torture one has to go through to be able to eat the best thing in the world – which is a cookie. It is a mistake to give a child such a wrong message about an unhealthy food item, this can lead to cravings,  avoid some foods or generally become picky or obsessive about food.  Food provides nutrients that our bodies need to grow and be healthy. Tricking your child into eating can place other meanings on food.