Forcing picky eaters to eat certain kinds of food may not be at all effective, according to a new study.
Toddlers who begin to develop specific food preferences are growing just fine, the paper says, even if their picky behavior continues.
"Parental pressure is having no effect, good or bad, on picky eating or weight in this population," said the study's author Julie Lumeng, a pediatrician and research professor at the University of Michigan.
The findings were published recently in the Appetite journal.
Picky Eaters: Should You Stop Forcing Them To Eat What They Don't Want?
Most of the research centered on picky eating has focused on children of largely Caucasian descent, who are followed only for short periods. Lumeng, however, followed a group of 244 ethnically diverse toddlers for over a year and compared parental tactics with the child's healthy growth and reduction of picky eating behavior.
She found no evidence that pressuring a child to eat healthier food will help them grow or act better. The concept of forcing picky eaters to eat specific kinds of food isn't new — but parents still do it, anyway.
"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," says Lumeng. "The kids' picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not ... As a parent, if you pressure, you need to make sure you're doing it in a way that's good for the relationship with your child."
Obviously, it makes sense for parents to introduce their children to new types of food in hopes that it piques a lifelong interest in learning about and trying new things, as Scary Mommy notes. However, continuously forcing them to finish everything on their plate or punishing them if they fail to gobble up their vegetables isn't going to be helpful. In fact, according to Lumeng's research, it might actually have a negative impact.
Choosing The Right Terms
Parents must also be cautious of using the term "picky," as it might have negative psychological effects. Instead, Lumeng says parents should use words such as "choosy" or "selective" so kids don't develop insecurities about eating.
So long story short, children being selective of their food isn't something parents should worry too much about. A number of studies, including this one, have shown that it is rarely associated with nutrient deficiencies or poor growth, so it shouldn't be a "serious behavior flaw that parents should expend lots of energy to eliminate."