If you don’t have fun feeding your toddler, your toddler isn’t having any fun being fed.

I’m not talking about the “draw some ketchup happy faces on your kid’s plate” kind of fun.  I’m just talking about garden-variety fun. You know, where your child actually enjoys eating.

Recent research from Switzerland shows that eating enjoyment reduces picky eating.  In other words, feed your picky eater some fun, and your picky eater might just stop being so picky.

The more children enjoy eating, the less picky they are.

That’s what the research shows.  It makes sense too.  Many kids simply shut down when they feel stressed about eating.

The research also shows that:

  • Fun activities, such as cooking, increase eating enjoyment.
  • Parental pressure decreases eating enjoyment.

There is oodles of advice out there on increasing the fun factor—gardening, cooking, grocery shopping, food art, sandwich cutouts, you name it.  But fun added on top of pressure isn’t fun at all.  In fact, in my experience, pressure cancels out the fun.

That’s why you’ve got to eliminate the pressure first.  Then, you can add in any kind of fun you like.

Parents rarely consider how putting on the pressure is problematic.

  • Do you think your child should always finish her plate?
  • Do you feel you have to be especially careful to make sure your child eats enough?
  • If your child says, “I’m not hungry,” do you try to get her to eat anyway?
  • Do you feel your child would eat much less food if you didn’t guide or regulate her eating?

These are the kinds of questions researchers ask parents to determine how likely they are to put on the pressure.

Read: The Pressure Cooker Problem , The Dinner Dance: When Is Enough Enough? and A New Approach to Teaching Tot to Try New Foods.

Of course, pressure might not actually cause a picky eating problem; it might be the way parents react to a picky eating problem instead.

This is a case when it doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg, because there’s no question that pressure reinforces pickiness.

Remember, picky eating is rarely a real reaction to the food.

I’m sure you intuitively know this because picky eaters are totally erratic in their eating behavior: Loving today what they hated yesterday, and hating today what they loved yesterday.  That’s why you can’t feed your way out of a picky-eating problem.

So back off the pressure and put your energy towards producing a happier eating environment instead.

Read The Road Less Traveled.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Source: van der Horst, K. 2012. “Overcoming Picky Eating. Eating Enjoyment as a Central Aspect of Children’s Eating Behaviors.” Appetite 58: 567-74