4 Alternatives to Force-Feeding Children

As a young child, I recall my parents force-feeding me. After 30+ years, I remember it vividly. Sitting over a single dumpling for hours (or what felt like it to me as a child) because my parents thought they had already given me a little, so I should eat it all. It got better as I got older. My mom finally figured out that I wouldn’t eat it if I didn’t want it. There was no way it would pass my throat. Force feed me, and even if I swallowed it, it would come back up.

So as I got older, I remember her calling me on the way home from school to ask if I felt like eating what she was thinking of making for dinner. Sometimes, I simply did not want what she wanted to make and told her so. Sometimes she would go on and cook what she was cooking or change her mind to something I would prefer. My mother accommodated me that way. I was grateful because for me, ‘eat what I make or don’t eat at all’ wasn’t a threat. It’s precisely what I preferred (and did do).

Now, as an adult, and as a mother, both scenarios influence my decision to avoid force-feeding my own child. Recent studies show that this typical parenting stance of force-feeding kids has psychological ramifications on the child later on. I believe it. It did for me.

force-feeding empty plate picture
Image via Pexel

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Picky Eater 101

My daughter is mostly a picky eater (like her mom). For that reason, I painstakingly shop for things she might eat. I admit it doesn’t always go well. I buy and make things for her to try and end up tossing them. (I have learned that this is a prominent feature of parenting).

The truth is if I buy something I thought I would like and I take it home, and I hate it, I’m not eating it. Period. If someone else isn’t around to eat it, I’m throwing it out. In fact, this has been very common these past few months as I try to figure out foreign food. My child is a whole person with her own tastebuds, likes and dislikes. Why then would I not recognize that when it comes to her food?

4 Alternatives to Force-Feeding Children

Forcing food on her is absolutely out of the question. Whether it be for her to eat something she doesn’t want or clean her plate, I’m not doing it. She might be young, but I trust her to tell me how her stomach is feeling.

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So, what do I do about my picky eating five-year-old?

1. Encourage Decision Making and Choices

I encourage decision-making and choices. Most often, when I wonder what I feel like eating, I ask my husband and my daughter what they would like to have. She is five, but she has a good understanding of what makes up a dinner or breakfast. Now she’s a child, so of course, there will be the odd request for candy or a snack as a meal. And, of course, those don’t fly. I make sure she knows why.

If she says she doesn’t know what she would like to have or I don’t have what she asks for, I throw out some options. Ont the flip side, suppose she asks for something specific (Chicken and rice. It’s always freaking chicken and rice.). If she asks for something specific, I ask her if she is sure that she wants that and let her know there won’t be any substitutes if she doesn’t eat what she has asked for.

2. Let Her Change Her Mind

It’s okay for children to change their minds. Why not? We do. Here’s an example of how I deal with that. Every morning, she gets two snacks packed in her lunch kit. She has taken to going through the lunch kit when she is ready to go to see what’s inside. Sometimes she will say, I don’t want that one.

If I know it’s something she likes or wants to get a specific snack replacement by saying she doesn’t want one of what’s inside, I simply say okay and take the snack out. When she asks for a new snack, I say no. You can have the one that was placed inside, or you can go with only one snack today.

Then I watch her think about it. And decide to either take the snack back or happily zip her bag up without the snack. That’s when I know she really doesn’t want it, and I can’t buy that one anymore.

3. Feed Her

Sometimes, if she hasn’t had enough to suit me that she won’t be starving, I offer to feed her. She will be receptive sometimes and eat some (more). Other times, she’ll start to cry immediately and tell me she doesn’t want it. Those times, I leave her alone.

4. Give Her Something Else

This is not a war. I don’t need to win. I need her to be fed. At the end of the day, that is the why. If all else fails and my child is adamant that she doesn’t want to eat what is in front of her, I simply give her something else. Is it convenient for me? No. Parenting isn’t about convenience, though, is it? Do I provide her with something else all the time? No. There are still lessons to be taught and boundaries to be set as her parent. However, sometimes I feel the best option on the table is to respect her ‘no’.

Parenting is not an easy job. For me, you do better when you know better. I feel like force-feeding is just one of those things I really don’t like and don’t want my child subjected to.

How do you feel about the practice of force-feeding children? No judgement here. We’re learning from each other. Let’s talk in the comments.

Xo, Shandean

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Shandean Reid

A heavily caffeinated, quintessential millennial wife and mom doing modern family life. I’m a communications professional following a five-year stint as a SAHM, switching roles with hubby, a physician and now WFHD. I also read and write books for fun! Stick around if I'm your kind of person!




  • nixtmitchell

    Totally against force feeding…..This will eventually scar the child. I’m going through all this and more with my 7 year old. Thanks for sharing Shan!

  • Force feeding is definitely toxic parenting. I hope I don’t have a picky child though. The thought of throwing out food my hard-earned money bought is painful 😅

    • Shandean Reid 🍃

      I wouldn’t wish that on you. It’s definitely painful throwing out food (and your money) when you so many others need it. But then there’s the flip side. Kids that eat all the time like day old fowls. 😅

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