Don't Force Children to Finish the Food on Their Plate

As parents, we know the importance of our kids eating healthy. However, never force your children to finish the food on their plate.
Don't Force Children to Finish the Food on Their Plate

Last update: 31 December, 2021

As parents, we know the importance of our children eating healthy. however, children shouldn’t be forced to finish the food on their plate. In this post, we’ll give you the recommendations you need so that you feed your child in a balanced way and you can relax.

It’s natural to worry when our children don’t eat as much as we’d like because we think they’re going to be malnourished, or we pay too much attention to comments from third parties such as: “You’re child’s so skinny”, “Are you feeding him well? He looks like a sick child.”, etc. Of course, we can’t help but feel bad or think that yes, our child is “very thin”.

We need to start by removing this type of opinion from our minds, as this causes us to want to constantly obsess about the feeding of children to the point that we force them to “eat everything on their plate”. If you’re going through this kind of problem, first start by determining if the child really has an eating disorder or if they suffer from some disease; if so, this of course should be treated by a specialist.

A plan to get children to eat their food spontaneously

A young girl biting into a watermelon slice.
  • Determining what foods they love first will help increase their urge to eat.
  • If the child eats a lot of sweets before the main meals, this could be one of the reasons why they don’t finish everything on their plate.
  • Try to present them with a nice dish, so that they’ll feel like eating it all. However, if all they do is eat a few spoonfuls, this is already a bonus – don’t force them to eat more!
  • Prevent them from being distracted when eating, that is, don’t let them eat around toys or while watching television. These types of distractions cause your appetite to be minimized.
  • Don’t exaggerate the rules at the table, sitting the child down and saying from the beginning “you have to eat everything” because this already causes them negative feelings and sometimes it’s good to let them make their own decisions.

Observing your child’s mood is very important. Many children often have no appetite because of stress problems, disappointments, and sadness. Cheer them up and then spoil them with their favorite dish!

The point of all of this is that we should force our children to finish the food on their plate. It’s natural for you to react and think “it’s about their health, their nutrition”, and this is true, but first you must try to discover what the reasons are that lead them to not eat well or to always leave food behind.

Take into account some tips

A toddler sipping from a straw.
  • At mealtime, add a motivating message, such as: “Mom made you a very tasty meal with a lot of love to help you grow healthy and strong.”
  • Asking the amount they want to eat is a good technique to try to include them when serving. Start by asking: Are you very hungry? Would you like to tell me how much you want to eat? Does everything I prepared look good to you or do you want to pick something in particular? Motivation is essential–obligation isn’t good for our little ones.
  • Accompanying them while eating is very necessary, as everyone sitting down as a family will allow them to observe that the family nucleus finishes all their food. Therefore, they’ll learn by observation.
  • Congratulating them when all their food is finished will motivate them and create a level of satisfaction in your child.
  • It’ll be natural that some days they won’t want to eat as much for some reason. On those days, try to understand them and help them understand that there’s no obligation.
  • Children shouldn’t be forced to finish all of the food on their plate, as it’s is a matter of time and patience to feed them well and healthily. A good technique is that of baby-led weaning. This consists of leaving different foods within reach for you to experiment with. It has been shown to be effective in improving children’s tolerance toward different foods.
  • Incorporate exercise routines into their day. First, it helps them burn energy and exercise their body. Second, it helps them to learn new skills. And third, it will make them come home with a lot more appetite and make them want to ask for seconds. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, physical activity helps children have a better predisposition toward eating food.

For good growth, children need to eat correctly

Now, just keep in mind that everything can improve as they grow. If they have tantrums, they’ll overcome them, and even more with your help. If their appetite is overactive, take control in order to avoid obesity in your little ones. But if they eat adequate portions, it’s not a bad thing if they leave the remains of some food on their plate.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • D’Auria E, Bergamini M, Staiano A, Banderali G, Pendezza E, Penagini F, Zuccotti GV, Peroni DG; Italian Society of Pediatrics. Baby-led weaning: what a systematic review of the literature adds on. Ital J Pediatr. 2018 May 3;44(1):49
  • Dorling J, Broom DR, Burns SF, Clayton DJ, Deighton K, James LJ, King JA, Miyashita M, Thackray AE, Batterham RL, Stensel DJ. Acute and Chronic Effects of Exercise on Appetite, Energy Intake, and Appetite-Related Hormones: The Modulating Effect of Adiposity, Sex, and Habitual Physical Activity. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 22;10(9):1140.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.