Some new advice allows us to do less, not more. Turns out, new research finds that controlling parenting styles may hinder children’s healthy eating habits. New data published in April 2013, finds that not only are controlling, food-related, parenting practices common, they aren’t helping teens maintain a healthy weight. In the Pediatrics study, researchers found that parents often encourage teens of healthy weight to finish all their food, providing pressure to eat. While parents to overweight teens ban some foods and encourage restriction. Neither practice is proven to improve teens’ habits or improve their health.

We really want our children to self-regulate their energy intake (food) and mounting evidence reports that controlling habits hinder this essential skill.

Four Golden Eating Rules

  • Divide responsibilities. Parents have the job of purchasing and serving healthy food. Infants, children, and teens have to choose what to eat and how much of the food that’s offered. The division of responsibilities allows you less of a role. Every parent knows that you can’t force a child to eat–the best thing to do is stop trying. Let mealtime be about feeding your body. If they don’t eat much, wait until the next meal to offer food. Children eat for themselves, not for their parents. Turn the TV off and let children feel their fullness when it arrives. 
  • Eat when your body is hungry. Stop when your body is full. Infants do this naturally when breastfeeding and when starting solids. We have to do our best to maintain that natural habit throughout toddler to teen years. This skill of responding to natural hunger and normal cues of satiety can be a huge asset for children for their entire lives. Do your best to stop engineering how much your children eat and let them learn to feel necessities.
  • Don’t make children Clean The Plate. There’s absolutely no reason to provide pressure to eat for children with normal development and normal health. Don’t reward children for finishing their dinner with more food (ie dessert) as children will often eat past their fullness. New research also finds that using smaller plates can also help control portion sizes and ultimately will reduce number of calories eaten. The benefit: it will also trigger less need to ask them to clean their plate, they’ll do so naturally on a smaller plate.
  • Eat together. The most potent education we give our children comes from our modeling habits and behaviors we think are most important. Eat together with children at meals from infancy until they leave home. Make a goal for at least one meal a day, and it doesn’t need to be dinner. That being said,  I love the book The Family Dinner by Laurie David. There’s no reason to cook special food for your children. Involve them in any part of meal prep you can, eat the same foods, and share your love of eating.