Pressure to Eat

“You know the rules – whether and how much I eat is up to me”

Parents have good intentions which motivate them to try and take over their child’s role of eating. Unfortunately, this action will have the opposite effect to what they had wanted. Once we’ve chosen, prepared, and served our child their meal we need to step back, relax and let them do their job.

We want children to eat more because we think they’re not eating enough. We stress them out and they eat less, we want to make sure they eat the right amount.

  • The non-compliant child will eat less and
  • The compliant child will eat more and may end up overeating.

If we try to get them to eat more of a particular food, such as vegetables, they may eat slightly more in the short term – but less in the long term.  

Why we might want to pressure children to eat

Trying to control children’s eating by pressuring is understandable as our health,  and survival depends on it. We want the best for our children and sometimes feel guilty if we aren’t actively trying to get them to eat well. Trust their tummies, don’t try and take over their job of eating.

“Really? You think you’ve got a better idea than me of how much I need to eat?”

For some parent’s food waste can be a source of frustration and the ‘eat everything on the plate’ instruction is commonly passed down from parents and grandparents who grew up in a time when food was more limited.

Children are very good at knowing when they’re hungry and when they’re full. There are very uncommon exceptions where your child may not be eating well due to something else going on. If you’re concerned with your child’s intake go to the feeding problem webpage or seek help from Child and Family Health or other health professionals.

What happens when we pressure children to eat?

Less liking for particular foods

Pressuring children to eat certain foods leads to them not liking the food in the long term. Play the long game. Children need to grow to like foods themselves, without pressure.

Poorer overall food intake at meals

If we pressure children to eat and they get stressed the meal time will become a battleground. Children will not feel like trying new foods and appetites will be lost. It’s best to finish a meal early meal and try again next meal time in a non-pressure environment. 

Mum – “It’s so hard letting go and trusting you to do this eating job.” Child – “You just have to! It’s the best option for my health.”

Overeating and overweight

We’re born knowing how much food to eat. Constant interfering, by asking children to eat when they no longer want to, can mess with this.

When we apply pressure to eat, children can override their natural instinct of when they’ve had enough, leading to overeating, weight gain now and into the future.

This can lead to a life-long battle with food, diets and weight management.


What to expect from your child's eating

Eating solids is new for baby, there’s a lot to it. They’re learning to…

  • Eat different tastes that they find very intense
  • Eat different textures
  • Chew and how to feed themselves.

We need to look at what we expect from our child’s eating at this early time. The What to feed your older toddler page provides a guide of the amounts of food an average child eats on average day. As we know there are not many average days at this age! What we can do as parents is just provide opportunities to eat and leave it up to them. Let’s check out how much we are serving. Are we expecting too much?

There’s a lot of pressure being a parent and pressure to do the right thing. This can lead to us pressuring our children to do things they may rebel against.

 Examples of pressure to eat

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

The Cheerleader – “Aren’t you a 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 vegies – look at this sad face.”

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.”
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.

Pressure can be non-verbal, body language and suggestive gesturing that indicates what you want children to eat, or whether you’re pleased with your child or not.



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