As a parent, one of the most frustrating things you have to deal with is a fussy eater child. To combat this, you might find yourself piling excess food onto your child’s plate in the hopes that they will get the nutrition they need.

There are many ways, some subtler than others, in which you might be force-feeding your child. For example:

  • Physically feeding your child even though they can feed themselves.
  • Shouting, scolding, or threatening the child to eat.
  • Comparing your child’s eating patterns to other children.
  • Implicating a punishment if they do not eat or finish their food.
  • Bribing them with an unhealthy treat if they finish their meal.

The effects of force-feeding can be the basis of building an extremely unhealthy relationship with food within your child that will last a lifetime. You might be forcing your child to eat broccoli now so that he can grow to like green throughout the rest of his life, but the evidence shows that children are more likely to grow up to hate any food they were forced to eat as children. Not just that, but there is a strong relationship between force-feeding and eating disorders on both sides of the spectrum, such as anorexia, bulimia, and obesity. If you do not give your child control over food choices throughout their childhood, they will not have the correct skills and judgement to make sound food choices once they’ve grown up.

It’s important to be realistic with portion sizes. Often parents pile up their children’s plate with portions similar to their own, and then get frustrated when the child cannot finish their plate. Encouraging portions that are too large can inhibit signals of fullness in your child’s body, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain later on.

Also remember that kids are kids, biologically speaking. They literally do not have the same taste buds and saliva that adults do, which makes some foods genuinely quite disgusting for them. It also means that their tastes change as they age, so it’s important to encourage your child to re-try foods they once hated as they grow. Kids aren’t adults, and we can’t expect them to eat like us without a little trial and error.

There are healthy ways of dealing with your picky eater. Here are some of our best tips:

  • Always explain to them how good, nutritious food will help them grow and stay healthy. For example, carrots are great because they will benefit their eyesight, chicken will help them become strong and grow muscles etc.
  • Don’t make a big fuss when the child refuses a food. The less of an issue you make of it now, the less of a fuss you will get the next time. Wait a little bit, and try again with a happy, positive attitude. Remember, it can take some children up to 10 times to start accepting new tastes and textures.
  • Give them choices; if they are going to snack on a fruit ask them whether they want grapes, apple, or a banana instead of just handing them one option.
  • Make sure you are choosing a time where your child is focused and ready to eat, with not too many distractions around him.
  • Present their meals in more visually appealing ways.
  • Have your child try the same foods they dislike every year or so to see if their tastes have changed.
  • Always remember that as a parent you are the most important influence on your child. Let your child see you eating vegetables, fruit and generally healthy food – just like you expect him too. If he sees that you are always reaching for the French fries while you expect him to finish his carrots and peas, he is more likely to follow in your footsteps!

Finally, enjoy the journey and remember that every child is different! Take it slow; food should be a great bonding activity for your family, so always change it up to keep it interesting and don’t get frustrated.