Lunch Tray readers may remember my post back in June in which I confessed that one of my children hates vegetables and (with a very few exceptions) will not try them no matter how many times or in what forms they’re presented. I believe in the principle articulated by Ellyn Satter, a well respected author on kids and food, that parents are in charge of what is served and when and where it is served, but only children are in charge of whether and how much to eat. But, as I wrote in my original post, not pressuring my child to try more vegetables has proven harder in practice than in theory.
Satter was kind enough to respond via email to my post back in June but due to copyright issues I’ve had to wait until now to share her response. Here’s what she said:
Some kids avoid entire food groups until they get in their teens. Then they push themselves along to learn to eat them. They do, that is, provided parents haven’t made an issue of it all along. And have been successful at avoiding pressure. The fact that you say you son “refuses” makes me wonder what he has to refuse. Refusing is a two way street–the encourager, the refuser. . . . If your conscience is clear, forget about the vegetables. Let him eat fruit, drink milk, eat bread, eat meat, etc. etc. He will do fine.
Pressure on children’s eating always backfires. Trying to get a child to eat more than she wants makes her eat less. Trying to get her to eat less than she wants makes her eat more. Trying to get her to eat certain foods makes her avoid them. Trying to get her to be neat and tidy makes her messy. Putting up with negative behavior in hopes she will eat makes her behave badly but not eat..
- Pressure can seem positive: Praising, reminding, bribing, rewarding, applauding, playing games, talking about nutrition, giving stickers, going on and on about how great the food is.
- Pressure can be negative: Restricting amounts or types of food, punishing, begging, withholding dessert, treats, or fun activities, physically forcing, threatening.
- Pressure can seem like good parenting: Reminding her to eat or to taste, making her eat her vegetables, warning her that she will be hungry, keeping after her to use her silverware or napkin, making special food, hiding vegetables in other foods, letting her eat whenever she wants to between meals.
- Pressure can be hard to detect: Ask yourself why you are doing something with feeding. Is it to get your child to eat more, less or different food than he does on his own? If so, it is pressure.
If I use Satter’s definition of pressure, I’m absolutely guilty of pressuring my children on a nightly basis. I do talk about nutrition (not often, but sometimes); I do occasionally talk pointedly (and immodestly) about how great the food is to encourage experimentation; I do sometimes remind my kids to taste; and I most definitely keep after my kids about manners (not sure why that last one’ a bad thing, though – that’s a follow-up question for Satter).
So, what do you think? Is Satter’s definition of pressure is too broad? Just right? Are you guilty of applying pressure on your children under this definition? I’d love to hear your thoughts.