Why You Should Never Force Your Child To Eat

Why You Should Never Force Your Child To Eat

Why You Should Never Force Your Child To Eat

“There are starving children in the world, and you should be grateful for the food on your plate.” Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I heard this phrase growing up, I could probably buy a year’s worth of groceries. Parents often use guilt tactics to get their children to eat everything on the plate, or, if they’re being especially horrible, use aggression and force.

Okay, so food wastage is a problem, and parents want their children to be healthy. Children can be extremely picky eaters – if something doesn’t look appealing, it’s a battle to get them to try it. And this can lead to malnutrition, which is a serious issue, and one we can’t take lightly.

However, does your fear of a malnourished child justify forcing them to eat when they don’t want to? Absolutely not! Join me as we explore why, and we discover some alternative ways of dealing with a child who’s a picky eater.

9 reasons why you shouldn’t force your child to eat

1. It creates a negative relationship with food

Forcing your child to do anything is a sure-fire way to make them dislike it, and dislike it for a good, long while. If you force your child to eat – or worse, if you bribe them with dessert – they’ll associate food with negative emotions. They may grow up thinking that eating is a chore, something they have to do rather than something enjoyable.

This is especially true of vegetables and healthy foods, which most children don’t initially like. By forcing them to eat these foods, you’re essentially setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits or even disordered eating in the future.

Because make no mistake about it, that broccoli you insisted on them eating in order to have ice cream won’t make it onto their grocery list when they’re adults!

2. It undermines their natural hunger cues

Children have an innate sense of when they’re hungry and when they’re full. Just like adults, some days they’ll be hungrier than others. By forcing them to eat everything on their plate, you’re undermining this natural response.

They might not always finish all the food in front of them, and that’s okay! You should trust your child to know what their body needs. Pushing them past those cues can lead to overeating and digestive issues.

3. Be ready for tantrums

Children are emotional and irrational beings – it’s just the way they are. If you try to force them to eat something they don’t want, a tantrum is pretty much inevitable.

It may not happen every time, but when it does – brace yourself! You’ll end up with an even bigger battle on your hands, and it’ll make meal times a miserable experience for everyone involved.

4. It devalues their autonomy

Imagine someone forcing you to do something that went against your wishes or desires? Not only would you feel powerless, but it would also make you feel undervalued and ignored.

Your child might be little, but they’re still human beings with their own thoughts and feelings. By forcing them to eat something they don’t want to, you’re teaching them that their autonomy doesn’t matter. This can set up a pattern where your child never feels heard or respected in other areas of life.

5. Your cooking might be horrible!

We all like to think our culinary skills are akin to Gordon Ramsey’s, but many of us are more like Mr. Bean in the kitchen!

What if your child genuinely doesn’t like the food you’ve cooked? What if you’re a terrible cook that uses too much salt, or pepper, or whatever, and everything you cook tastes atrocious? How can you expect your child to eat something that assaults their taste buds?

Think about what would happen if you were forced to eat something that genuinely made you nauseated. You’d likely end up throwing up. Well, the same goes for your child!

6. You might make them fat

Yes, you read that right! Forcing your child to eat can actually lead to them becoming overweight. When children learn to ignore their natural hunger cues and eat even when they’re not hungry, it will lead to overeating, and thus to weight gain.

Intuitive eating is vital for maintaining a healthy weight. When your child learns to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full, it helps them understand their body’s needs better.

7. The food might not be good for them

Not all food is created equal. Just because something is on their plate doesn’t mean it’s good for them.

I know, I know, you may have spent a lot of money on the meal and you don’t want it to go to waste, but if that meal is McDonald’s or something equally as unhealthy, you’re not doing your child any favors by insisting they eat it.

8. It can lead to long-term anxiety issues

Forcing your child to do anything, including eating, can cause irreparable damage if it continues over time. It’s essential to understand that anxiety about food is real and can impact your child for the rest of their lives.

Anxiety disorders often begin in childhood, and forcing a child to eat when they don’t want to can be one of the factors that trigger it. Children need healthy and supportive environments where they feel comfortable exploring their food preferences without fear of ridicule or punishment.

9. It’s not a sustainable solution

Sure, you can force your child to eat right now, but what happens tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that? It’ll be the same rodeo all over again.

By using force and aggression to get your child to eat, you’re not addressing the root cause of your child’s picky eating habits. Repeatedly forcing them will only make the situation worse, rather than better.


So what can you do instead of forcing your child to eat things they don’t want to?

Involve them in meal planning and preparation

Children are more likely to eat something if they’ve helped prepare it or feel like they have a say in what’s on their plate.

Offer a variety of healthy options at each meal

When there are various foods available, children can choose what they want to eat and get used to different tastes and textures.

Don’t bribe with sweets or dessert

It sets up unhealthy food relationships where sweet things become “rewards” for good behavior – like training a dog!

Be patient

Children’s taste buds are still developing, and it’s common for them to be picky eaters. Don’t give up on a particular food the first time they refuse it – try introducing it again in different ways.

Make meal times fun

Children will be more likely to eat if they’re enjoying themselves, so make eating a fun experience by playing games or coming up with silly names for different foods.

Lead by example

If your child sees you eating healthy foods without complaining, they’ll model that behavior too.