Six ways to orchestrate kids’ desire to eat what you want them to eat, Part I

Aug 2, 2010 by

Sheep respond to force feeding about as well as kids do.

Forcing kids to eat never works, as you may have noticed. It works only slightly better than trying to force sheep, for example, to eat.  As with sheep, trying desperately to force children to do anything only scares them off.  They get resistant and suspicious.

Instead, we need only set the situation: a safe, fenced pasture of good grass, and bring them in gently. If you let them run around in the woods they’re likely to eat or be eaten by something bad. Placed in a pasture, their hunger comes naturally if they aren’t alarmed.  Waving your arms and shouting is not effective. The atmosphere need only be maintained and proper limits set, where they are free to eat because they’re hungry for what you want them to eat and what they need. As Little Bo Peep says, leave them alone, and they will come home.

Unlike sheep, children can and need to learn good behavior, though. Sheep have to be fenced all their lives for their own good, I suspect. But like a sheep, you can gently and firmly keep children inside the limits, and the right eating will follow all on its own.

  1. Allow eating only at set meal and snack times. Nothing spoils the appetite for a meal more surely than random snacking. Then make meal and snack times festive, official, and pleasant. Avoid being negligent or careless. Sit down together at the table, be cheerful, and make the food attractive. Simply cutting up fruit and putting it in a bowl sets a positive tone with the tiniest effort.
  2. Instead of encouraging them to eat, discourage them from eating or don’t let them eat. Besides random snacking, nothing ruins the natural desire to eat like being pressured to eat by some worried person hovering over you.

If you don’t let them eat when and what you don’t want them to eat, they will have no choice but to eat when and what you do want them to eat, if they want to live. No forcing to eat needed, only restraining from eating.

Pulling away always works better than pushing.

The one time my kids resisted eating something I’d fixed, I had them begging for a big bite within 30 seconds.  Here’s how.

If you are a good enough actor, act like you don’t want them to eat what you really want them to eat. Act reluctant to share, or at least act perfectly neutral. Your wanting them to eat it just raises suspicions, such as that it must not be desirable if you’re pushing it on them.

So create an atmosphere of never having to eat anything you don’t want. Then kids will have the freedom to try things without losing face. But never fear, they will be hungry and they will eat.

3.   Casually run out of things you don’t want to let them have anymore.

Marlena’s kids would drink juice all day long and thus manage to keep from having to eat the stuff she wanted to them eat. So I advised her to casually, without being at all confrontational, to run out of juice.

The key is not to inform the children that you are no longer going to supply juice. Rather, just say, “Oh, darn, we are out,” and then talk about something else. Do not be available to run out and get some. Be inventive, but ever nonchalant, in dragging out the situation, while your kids’ hunger drives them to eat what you want them to eat and they forget about that thing they “needed.”

Related posts:

“Six ways to orchestrate kids’ desire to eat what you want them to eat” Part II

Six sample consequences for children’s disagreeable dinner table behavior that eliminate misbehavior AND food refusal

Eating Power Struggles with Kids: Why They’re Useless and How to End Them

How to Motivate Kids to Eat

Featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday Sept. 3, 2010.