Pressuring toddlers to eat

“I’m trying to get them to eat more vegies!”

Well you won’t do it by pressuring your toddler to eat them! You might get a small improvement in the short term, but long term they’ll learn to dislike vegies and eat less as they grow older.

PLAY THE LONG GAME! DON’T PRESSURE CHILDREN TO EAT AT ANY TIME

 
Why we might want to pressure children to eat

Parents pressuring children to eat is understandable, as our health, well-being and survival depends on it, especially at this age. This is a testing time as your toddler naturally becomes pickier in what they choose to eat. Food they would eat before becomes something they won’t touch now… very frustrating!!

Hold your nerve… you determine the menu… they’ll learn to eat the food you eat. 

Is fussiness normal?

Toddler’s increasing pickiness at this age is the result of a growing awareness and learning to be cautious in their new environment. It’s a good thing! Self-preservation! Our roles don’t change. We still choose and prepare the food and it’s up to toddlers whether to eat and how much to eat. Trust your plan, your toddler’s eating will improve, but it will be up and down and so gradual that you might not notice it.

For some parents food waste can be a source of frustration. The “eat everything on the plate” instruction is commonly passed down from parents and grandparents who grew up in a time when food may have been limited.

Children are extremely good at knowing when they’re hungry and when they’re full. There are times when something else is going on, resulting in baby not eating, particularly if your child is not gaining weight or is losing weight. If you’re concerned with your child’s intake go to the feeding problems webpage, or seek some help from a health professional.

What happens when we pressure children to eat?

Less liking for particular foods

Pressure applied to eating particular foods leads toddlers to have a long term dislike for the food. Play the long game! Kids need to grow to like foods themselves without pressure.

Less willingness to eat the food

If we pressure toddlers to eat, meal time quickly becomes a battle. Once the situation gets stressful your toddler will not have the courage to eat new foods and their appetite will be lost. It’s best just to abandon the meal and try again next time in a non-pressure environment.  

Overeating and overweight

We’re born knowing how much food to eat.  When pressure is applied to eat, we lose our natural instinct of when we’ve had enough, leading to overeating. Research has shown that by age 2, some toddlers have already lost the ability to know how much to eat and eat more than they need. This can lead to lifelong battles with food, dieting and weight management.

Eating will be up and down, look at our expectations

Eating solid food is a new experience for toddlers, there’s a lot to it.

They’re learning:

  • to eat different often quite powerful tastes
  • to eat different textures and how to chew
  • how to feed themselves.

We need to look at what we expect from toddlers at this early time! The ‘What to feed your toddler page’ provides a guide to the amount of food an average child eats on an average day. As we know there are not many average moments at this age!

What pressure to eat can look like

Pressure can be non-verbal, body language and suggestive. It can be gesturing that says (without words) you want children to eat and if you’re happy with your toddler or not. 

The Coach – “Just eat that piece there, that’s it, that little tiny piece there.”

The Cheerleader – “Aren’t you a good good boy for eating that yay!”

The Boss – “I want you to eat all of your beans.”

The Guilter – “Mummy gets upset if you don’t your eat vegies – look at this sad face.”

A good girl” would eat their dinner after mummy worked so hard cooking it.”
The Rule Maker – “Eat a green thing, a white thing and a brown thing.”
The Briber – “If you eat everything on your plate then you can watch Thomas the Tank Engine.”
The Punisher – “You need to eat all of that or you can’t play with your toys.”
The Enforcer – Physically putting food into the child’s mouth and forcing them to swallow.