Up to 66 percent of parents demand that their teenagers clean their plate–even if their kids are overweight or obese, according to a study published in Pediatrics.
The researchers also found that it’s extremely common for parents to try to control how much their kids eat, with some parents pressuring adolescents to eat more and others pressuring them to eat less. Both patterns can adversely affect kids’ weight, the study reported.
And while you might think that moms are the main culprits, the researchers report that dads are actually more likely to act as the food police. Many of the fathers in the study even pressured their children to continue eating after the kids said they were full–a tactic that could be fueling the childhood obesity epidemic.
“I was surprised at some of the parent behaviors, like feeling that their children should clean their plates and not waste food,” study author Katie Loth, a registered dietician and doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis told HealthDay.
“In the 1950s, cleaning your plate meant something different,” adds Loth. “Portion sizes have gotten bigger over time, and if you encourage kids to rely on environmental indicators, like how much food is on their plates or the time of day, they’ll lose the ability to rely on internal cues to know whether they’re hungry or full.”
Restricting food can backfire as well. For example, many of the parents in the study felt that if they rigorously monitor and limit what their kids ate, the kids would pack on pounds by gorging on candy and junk food. Not surprisingly, parents who practiced restrictive food behaviors typically had overweight or obese children, the researchers report.
Overall, the study found that many more dads than moms pushed their kids to clean their plate–and that boys are more likely than girls to be the target of this type of food policing. The research adds to earlier studies showing that very often, dads have a bigger influence–whether positive or negative–on children’s eating habits than moms do.
The study shows that trying to control every bite your child eats does more harm than good. In the Amen household, we avoid food policing. Instead, we make it easy for our daughter, Chloe, to choose the foods that are best for her body and brain.
Here are some simple, effective ways to encourage your children to eat healthy, without becoming the food police:
- Stock your home with a variety of tasty, wholesome choices–and ditch the junk. In my books, The Brain Warrior’s Way and The Omni Diet, I include a detailed guide to purging your pantry of foods that don’t belong in a healthy kitchen, including most processed foods and those containing high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, gluten, and trans fat.
- Provide “parent-approved” snacks. Help your children make great food decisions, even at a young age, by having a snack shelf of nutritious foods they can reach themselves. By encouraging them to make selections from healthy options, they learn to take responsibility for their nutrition.
- Avoid food fights. On the rare occasions when Chloe refuses to eat what’s in the house, we’re comfortable with her deciding to miss a meal. Many moms and dads are hardwired with a “guilt chip” that makes them feel like bad parents if their kids don’t eat three meals a day. They’ll even resort to the worst “frankenfoods” to achieve that goal. But we know that Chloe won’t starve when there’s an abundance of tasty, healthy food available. When she’s hungry, she’ll eat.
- Let kids make dietary mistakes–and learn from them. Instead of scolding your children for making poor choices about food, look for teachable moments. For example, you could point out that the sugary birthday cake your son or daughter wolfed down at a party could be the culprit for the bellyache that struck afterward.
For more information on how to make healthy family dinners easier check out this blog.