If you are a parent then you know how picky children can be when it comes to food. Even if your child is not as picky as others, you are acutely aware of how difficult it can be to get some children to eat certain foods. But while you might think that encouraging them (often demanding them) to eat some of these foods is best, new research suggests that parental pressure may not even work.
More importantly, though, picky eaters might actually grow to be healthier in the long run.
Study author and pediatrician Dr. Julie Lumeng states, “Parental pressure is having no effect, good or bad, on picky eating or weight in this population.”
The research professor at the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development goes on to describe that “choosy or selective eating” (as we call it now) has always focused on older children or children populations of mixed age—and predominantly Caucasian—and only followed for a very short amount of time. For the study, then, they followed a group of 244 ethnically diverse children aged 2 and 3, for more than a year. The researchers compared parental pressure tactics to the healthy growth of each child versus any reduction in choosy eating behavior.
Accordingly, “Adventures in Veggieland” author and pediatric feeding specialist Melanie Potock—who was not involved in the study—comments, “There’s no evidence, according to this study, that if you pressure your garden variety, picky eater that they’ll actually grow bigger or act better.”
In addition, Ellyn Satter, another author (“Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense”), who was not involved with the study, shares, “It’s not new that parents should not pressure their picky child but they continue to do it. So hopefully studies like this can help hammer the message home.”
Lumeng adds, “In a nutshell, we found that over a year of life in toddlerhood, weight remained stable on the growth chart whether they were picky eaters or not. The kids’ picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not.”
Finally, Satter concludes: “Something appears to happen cognitively and the now familiar food is unfamiliar and they don’t want to eat it,” said Satter. “If the parent can ride it out, when they become preschoolers, they become less skeptical of unfamiliar food.”