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Don’t force your child to finish his or her plate

Don’t force your child to finish his or her plate

Gone are the days when our parents and grandparents told us that the last spoonful on the plate was the most nourishing. Gone are the times when we had to finish everything if we wanted dessert, or to go out and play, or to spend time with our cousins. Science has shown that educating children to finish everything we put on their plate is not related to a better or worse nutritional education, and at Agora International School Barcelona we’re going to explain why.

“The less judgements are made about food and the less it is used as a reward/punishment, the better for the child’s future health”. This is how Juan Llorca and Melisa Gómez refer in their book ‘Leche con Galletas’ (Ed. Vergara) to the idea of relating children’s food to their behaviour and using it as a reward or punishment.

There are many experts who speak of the serious mistake made by families who tend to link nutritional education with emotional education. Without going any further, the nutritionist Julio Basulto, who states that: “forcing a child to eat is neither ethical nor educational and is counterproductive. The aim is not for children to eat, but for them to want to eat, and to want to eat healthily, and this cannot be achieved through coercion, pressure, insistence, prizes and punishments”.

Forcing an end to everything can damage your relationship.

According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, using constraint at the dinner table can cause tension at mealtimes and also damage the parent-child relationship. “There is no evidence that pressuring children helps them,” explained one of the study’s authors in a statement.

This is something that the paediatrician Carlos González agrees with, who, in his book ‘Mi niño no me come’ (Ed. Temas de hoy) already makes reference to this: “do not force your child to eat. Never force your child to eat, by any method, under any circumstances, for any reason”, he explained.

Are there any foods that you are really disgusted by?

If, day after day, we insist that our children finish all the food we have served them and do not take into account their opinion about how much they want or do not want, we may fall into the grave error of provoking a lifelong rejection of the food on their plate. To explain this better, let’s use a practical example: a girl spent three years of her life eating lunch and dinner at her great-aunt’s house, a woman who firmly believed in the power of soups for any ailment. So, those three years she ate soups of different textures, flavours and made with different ingredients, twice a day. Without exception.

How did it happen? That teenage girl grew up, got married and started a family in which she never ate a bowl of soup. This obligation to eat and finish all the soup caused her to reject this food, which she has passed on to her children.

It is not nonsense: “if we force a child to eat a food, it will be difficult for them to choose it of their own accord on future occasions, as forcing them to eat tends to provoke aversion and rejection towards the food they have been forced to eat”, comments María Manera Bassols, dietician-nutritionist and expert in infant nutrition.

How to promote proper nutrition education at home?

Here at Agora International School Barcelona we’re going to offer you a series of tips for educating your children nutritionally without fear of getting it wrong. Above all, we must remember that “acquiring good habits and getting them to eat a balanced diet is a question of time and a lot of patience”, as the Spanish Association of Paediatrics reminds us.

  • Of course, as we have explained throughout this article, we should not force our child to eat. If we identify that he does not want to eat for several days in a row, we should investigate the source of the problem, but not judge his behaviour.
  • If they don’t want a food, we can try offering it in a different presentation, cooked or mixed with something else, as it is often the textures that they miss (and not the taste).
  • Prevent children from snacking between meals
  • Try to act calmly and not use mealtimes to attack any member of the family:“mealtimes should be a time for the family to get together, not the most stressful time”, says Eva María Pérez Gentico, a nutritionist.
  • Take your child’s opinion into account when serving food, and don’t give them the amount you consider appropriate: “the amount should always be decided by the child, according to their appetite and needs, and not by adults”, say the AEP. “The appetite of most children is sufficient to meet their needs, so there is no need to show concern about the amount of food they eat”.
  • Try to avoid external stimuli at mealtimes: we are talking, for example, about screens.

In short: if you want your child to have a healthy nutritional education and to acquire good eating habits from infancy, do not force them to finish everything on their plate. Learn to listen to them, let them decide when and what they want to try and, if they ultimately refuse to try a food, try offering it to them in a different presentation or cooked in a different way.

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