Should I Force My Daughter to Eat Healthy Food She Hates?

Filed under: Tweens, Teens, Nutrition: Health, Mealtime, Dear Karla

Dear Karla,
My daughter has always been a picky eater. From an early age, my wife and I never forced her to eat the same foods as we did and got into the habit of preparing separate meal items for her. Now that our daughter is nine years old, we feel she should be eating the same foods as us, as she will be a teenager soon and should be having 'adult-like' food. My wife does not believe in forcing a child to eat foods they hate as that happened to her as a child and she still cringes at the memories. When is the right time to ditch the 'kiddie' foods?


Hi David,

First of all, I would like to commend you on taking a moment to reflect on your daughter's current eating habits and being open to taking chances to improve them. This is a great time to instill the kind of healthy habits that our children will continue as adults.

Your wife is correct about not forcing food, as the food items we "force" often become associated with a negative feeling. In short, food becomes a punishment. And because so often the things that kids don't want to eat are vegetables (which contain crucial nutrients), those are then associated with punishment and negativity, while dessert or leaving the table becomes the reward. This creates confusion amongst children as they hold negative feelings towards healthy foods, which is not what any parent intends.

Instead of forcing and fighting, there are a few other things you can do.Now that your daughter is nine, this is a great time to get her involved in the kitchen. She can put on an apron and help with the cooking, set the table, and even offer suggestions on meal items. For example, let her decide what type of vegetable dish she would like to prepare. When you listen to her opinion she will not only feel empowered, but realize that she has a bit of freedom in mealtime decisions as well.

From the time a child is old enough to eat finger food, this is also the time they should switch over to adult foods, with the exception of nuts and honey and possibly any other food that can either be classified as a choking hazard or allergy risk if this runs in the family. Here are some simple, healthy recipe swaps.

  • Mac and Cheese - Try whole wheat pasta noodles with grated, lower-fat, hard cheese and diced tomatoes (or no-salt-added canned tomatoes or sauce)
  • Frozen Pizza - Try a whole wheat tortilla pizza with no-salt-added tomato sauce, grilled white meat, raw vegetables (to the child's choosing) and lower-fat cheese on top
  • Chicken Fingers -Try a homemade version of chicken strips coated in beaten egg and then rolled in crushed cereal
  • Fruit Bars - Try apples or pears, cut into wedges and served with yogurt or a healthy dip

Karla Heintz (BSc Nut), Nutrition Educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parent's Guide to Children's Nutrition

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.