As parents, most of us want the best for our kids especially when it comes to eating and being healthy. Our intentions to make sure our child(ren) finish their meals is associated of course with being worried that they are either not eating enough or not consuming the right foods or a balanced diet.
Many a time, feeding time becomes a source of frustration instead of an enjoyable experience.
“Please just one more bite”, or “If you eat everything, I will let you watch TV,” to forcing the food down the child’s throat. This is then carried over to insisting that teachers and day care providers do the same. Force feeding in licensed day care centers is not permitted and it is important that parents realize this and not create negative relationships with the staff.
Going back to the parent, we need to remember that forcing anyone, let alone children, to do anything is not a solution to the problem. When we force feed children to eat, the act of being pressurized is more likely going to lead to the development of negative association with food, possible a dislike to food and meal times, and more importantly stop children from responding to the internal signals of hunger their body sends, or the signs of fullness, and this can result to many eating disorders including obesity.
By forcing children to eat, parents naturally want the child to consume the meal and also not waste the food that has been prepared for them. My experience in the last 20 years of managing day cares, especially within certain cultures, is the humongous portion sizes sent for children. Even as an adult I would have problems consuming that much food. The other issue I have witnessed is the lack of variety and for example sending only boiled rice or boiled pasta. Agreed your child may like that meal but eating heavy carbs every day, every single meal is not necessarily providing a healthy meal for your child. Be sure to send a few more things giving the child choices.
Pressure to eat and force feeding has been associated with many negative consequences to include but not limited to:
1. Dislike to food and children associating mealtimes with a negative experience.
2. Pressurizing children to eat will undermine their appetite control and reduce their responses to natural hunger or fullness signals.
3. Trying or experimenting different foods by forcing it down their throats will only result in negative associations to that type of food.
4. Offering children larger portions than what they can consume leads to many eating disorders.
We need to remember that our bodies are very capable of letting us know when we want to eat or drink. It is a natural reaction within our own systems, and like anything you should not fight or change nature. By offering foods, if your child rejects the food, do not turn this experience into a battle. Except in very rare cases, children will clearly let you know when they are hungry. Initially, to get to know your child, maintain a diary to keep track of when they last ate and you will soon learn their eating patterns. If they do not eat at a particular time, offer the food later on. These days there are numerous APP’s available to parents. Trust your little one’s stomach and try to make mealtimes a pleasurable experience for all. Most importantly, be realistic on the portions of food that you send. The best guide is a single portion of each food is roughly what would fit in the palm of a child’s hand e.g. palm size portion of pasta with a palm size serving of vegetables.
Last but not least, avoid using gadgets for mealtimes. Instead spend that time talking and interacting with your child teaching them table manners and etiquette.