Should we force children to eat or reward them for cleaning their plates?

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Something to think about . . .

Should we force children to eat or reward them for cleaning their plate?

by Connie Stefkovich, R.D., former Administrator, Nutrition Services

When your center applied to the Nebraska Department of Education to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), you agreed to provide children with meals that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations. The center’s responsibility for those meals ends when the child is served a meal. USDA regulations do not require that children consume the food.

Nutrition Services has received numerous complaints about teachers and aides who make children taste all foods, eat minimum amounts of foods or clean their plates. These practices are not recommended. How many adults would frequent a restaurant in which they were forced to eat everything they ordered?

“You can’t control or dictate the quantity of food your child eats, and you shouldn’t try.” This is the opening statement in a chapter of Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, R.D. According to Ms. Satter, children are remarkably able to regulate the amount of calories they need for maintenance and growth. If a child takes in fewer calories at lunch because he or she eats only a few bites, he or she will probably eat enough at another time to make up the difference.

Your CACFP program will be more beneficial to the children if the atmosphere is pleasant and relaxing. A teacher or aide forcing children to take “one more bite” adds stress. It appears that younger children are most often the ones who are forced to eat more than they want.

A subtle form of forcing children to eat is also occurring. When children are rewarded with stickers or points for cleaning their plates, they are, in essence, being forced to eat. Children need to follow their bodies to determine how much they want to eat instead of eating to please an adult.

Updated January 25, 2023 4:33pm