Why Forcing Kids to Eat Something Doesn't Work
In an attempt to get kids to eat a variety of foods, many parents resort to forcing kids to try new foods. It can be in the form of “you have to try one bite” or it can be “you are not leaving this table until you have eaten X.” Either methods, although varying in degree of force, are coercion tactics, and have been shown to influence how children view the manipulated food which affects their intake, sometimes with lasting effects well into adulthood.
I was reminded of this recently when out to dinner with my cousin. We had ordered family style with everyone ordering a dish. I ordered an eggplant dish, and he commented that he was surprised I ordered eggplant as it was a contentious food in my family. Growing up, I vividly remember a time when my brother and I were stuck at the dinner table with servings of eggplant on our plates, unable to leave until we had cleaned our plates. Neither of us wanted to eat the eggplant, but we also knew we were not able to go anywhere until the repulsive food magically disappeared from our plates. I do not remember how we managed to leave the table that night, but it had lasting effects on both of us. Years later, making dinner with my grandmother, she showed me how she ate eggplant, and got me to try it. I liked it, and ever since, I have eaten the vegetable. My brother on the other hand, has not lost his aversion to it. Occasionally, he will eat a bite or two, but it is not a vegetable he will voluntarily choose.
Children become curious to try foods that they see their caregivers and peers consume. They may not try the food for the first exposures. Some studies have shown it may take 8-15 exposures for a child to try a food, but if they see caregivers and peers consuming the food, they will try it someday. Do not give up hope if your little one does not take to a food initially. Keep meals fun and enjoyable and they will choose what they like and do not like. They are just starting to build their palate and have many years to develop their tastes. If you force them to try something, it may have a lasting impression that will prevent them from consuming it for many years to come and may inhibit them from trying new foods in the future.