Pressuring Picky Eaters Accomplishes Nothing

by Julie Scagell
Image via Getty Images/patat

We can finally stop nagging our picky eaters

If you’re like me, you’ll do just about anything to get your kid to consume semi-healthy food including (but not limited to): bribing, begging, pleading, threatening, paying, tricking, and yelling. But according to a recent study, we can put all those painful mealtime “discussions” behind us because our kids are going to turn out just fine.

According to a recent study published in the journal Appetite, we shouldn’t pressure our kids to eat foods they don’t like because forcing them to eat these foods can create tension at mealtimes and damage the parent-child relationship. They also found that making kids eat unwanted foods didn’t even affect their eventual weight or whether they’d become picky eaters later in life.

“But how will they know whether or not they like something unless they try it,” I can hear my mom whispering into my ear as I relent and give her grandchildren chicken nuggets for the fifth day in a row? Because a scientist said so and shit, SO THERE.

“Parental pressure is having no effect, good or bad, on picky eating or weight in this population,” said study author Dr. Julie Lumeng, a pediatrician and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development. “The kids’ picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not.”

Lumeng followed a group of 244 ethnically diverse two and three year olds for over a year and compared parental pressure tactics to their child’s healthy growth and reduction of picky eating behavior and found no data to support that laying the hammer down at mealtime changed the eventual outcome.

“We found that over a year of life in toddlerhood, weight remained stable on the growth chart whether they were picky eaters or not,” Lumeng said. While it’s frustrating for us as parents, it rarely causes health problems or deficiencies, so no “clean plate club” members needed.

Obviously, it makes sense to introduce our kids to new types of foods in hopes that it piques a lifelong interest learning about and trying new things. But constantly pestering them to finish everything on their plates or stressing over every piece of uneaten broccoli isn’t necessary. In fact, according to this research it can actually backfire.

Lumeng also says parents should use phrases like “choosey” or “selective” instead of picky so our kids don’t develop insecurities about eating. So, at dinner tonight I’m going to let my selective eater enjoy his chicken nuggets without uttering a single word, giving him a newfound opportunity to bitch about something other than his meal for once.

I don’t know about you, but I could’ve used this study 47,000 meals ago.