Do you remember the “would you rather game?” You present two possible realities and the person choosing has to choose one.
For old times’ sake, let’s play one of those now.
Would you rather have a meal with a wrathful raging toddler who ends up eating a reasonable portion of the meal you made OR eat with a toddler who doesn’t touch much of their food, but is allowed to be a pleasant conscientious objector?
Not in the intensity of the moment, I think most of us would choose the second option. A pleasant slightly-hungry dinner guest over the shrilling angry full-belly guest.
If this is true, why do we as parents and grandparents feel such a compulsion to force our children or grandchildren to eat more than what they want?
Here are 4 major reasons we as parents choose to ruin our dinner by making them eat:
First, we worry they are not eating enough. This is a key one I address in one-on-one sessions & my picky eating self-paced course. The parent must set the meal and snack frequency and types of foods offered. When we do, our children can and will eat enough. The amount they eat will shift with their appetite. They may eat EVEN MORE than an adult serving at breakfast, BUT THEN small portions the rest of the day, particularly if the later meal lacks their favorites. As your confidence grows in how to set boundaries, you won’t feel the anxious urge to have them eat a certain amount before leaving the table.
Second, we think it’s the moral thing to do. “Kids in third world countries have nothing to eat!” Have you heard that one? Yes, that’s a weighty and sad topic, but does that actually have anything to do with your 2-year-old eating their peas? Of course, you are trying to make your child grateful for their food. BUT shame eating will never lead to gratitude. Eating is actually an amoral activity. To eat or not to eat, that’s the question. Presuming your kids aren’t being served other kids, it’s actually not a moral issue if they choose to eat the food you put on their plate. Let’s stop treating it like one. They can be respectful while they don’t eat their dinner.
Third, we think it’s the economical thing to do. Have you heard this one? “We paid good money for that food and you aren’t going to waste it!” Certainly, you did pay money for that food, but how much did your child’s portion actually take up? The average stomach size of a toddler is the size of their fist (sometimes more), not quite breaking the bank.
Do you know what’s making the economical side even worse? The vast majority of parents are giving their kids far too much food on their plates, creating their own problem! Imagine you ordered a pizza, but the owner of the pizza parlor demanded you eat the entire pizza before you leave, lol. That’s what a lot of parents and grandparents are doing to children and then arguing about it.
Additionally, encouraging a child to eat past fullness teaches them to eat past comfort and learn to overeat and stretch their stomach. Worst case scenario you can eat the leftover food, save it for another meal (repurposed) or donate it to the compost. Think about it, do you really want to force tears over a single dollar of food? Frankly, most of us would pay 10x that not to have our meal ruined with the tears.
Fourth, it’s actually our pride. Can we be honest about this? When our kids don’t do what we want we get offended and take it personal and feel it is the reflection of our parenting. Our pride is wounded, and we pick a foolish hill to die on…and so our sanity and peaceful evening die together. I’m not saying there aren’t moments we stand our ground and embrace the chaos. What I am saying is that if our pride wasn’t involved, I don’t think we’d really choose this hill to die on. Worst case scenario our little one doesn’t eat, and they go to bed somewhat hungry and humbled that night. Don’t worry, they’ll eat a big breakfast to make up for it. I have an entire strategy for handling this that I teach in my ‘Turning Picky Eaters into Adventurous Eaters’ self-paced course. Those that have implemented my tactics have no doubt which “would you rather?” guest they’d prefer to have over. It’s a game changer.
Meals can and should be joyful regardless of how much (or little) someone eats.
If I can help you get unstuck with a course or course and one-on-one package or you’d like to set up a discovery call for (weight loss, food intolerances, allergies, diabetes, IBS, PCOS or other nutrition related obstacles) I’d love to help you enter into a more enjoyable season of life.