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When Insisting on Healthy Eating Backfires

When Insisting on Healthy Eating Backfires

The lyrics to Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It sums up how parents inadvertently trigger bad food habits in their kids: “Don't want to argue, I don't want to debate/Don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate/You won't get no dessert 'til you clean off your plate/So eat it!”

According to Ohio State University researchers, how you serve up food has as much impact on your children’s health as what you dish up. If you push (and push) healthy foods, you actually increase a child’s risk for obesity. That’s because when you’re too restrictive and bossy, youngsters never learn self-regulation, what “I’m full” feels like, or to respect the feeling. Ironically, obese moms are the most restrictive when it comes to their kids’ menus. To encourage even the pickiest toddler to adopt healthy eating habits, strike a balance between rules and relaxation.

The rules: Sit together for family mealtimes at a table; no TV or digital devices allowed. Make basically the same meal for adults and kids, including one food you know your child will eat. Don’t make dessert a super-special ending.

The relaxation: Let your toddler decide how much and what foods to eat. You should introduce new flavors to a toddler, but you can’t force him or her to like them. That will come with time. And the best way to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. “Do as I say, not as I do,” backfires big time. 

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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