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Niamh Greene: Kids know best at meals, so we should stop beating ourselves up over broccoli


Meal Time: Do kids know more about what food they should eat more than parents do?

Meal Time: Do kids know more about what food they should eat more than parents do?

Meal Time: Do kids know more about what food they should eat more than parents do?

In theory, a family dinner is supposed to be a pleasant experience - a chance for everyone to spend quality time together while enjoying their evening meal.

In reality, things can be far more stressful than that.

For a start, busy parents have to get everyone to sit down together at the same time in the same place, which is no mean feat.

Even if they do get everyone in the same room, many parents still won't be able to relax because chances are they'll have to go into mortal combat with the scourge of happy dinner tables everywhere - the fussy eater.

We all know the type. He's the one who turns up his nose at anything that even remotely resembles a vegetable.


He refuses to allow green foods to touch orange foods, or even to have coloured foods visible at all. He pushes his food listlessly round his plate and never clears it, no matter how much his parents cajole, bribe or downright beg him to.

Instead, he'll dig his heels in and obstinately refuse to cooperate, even as his poor frazzled parents fret that he's going to develop Rickets or something even worse because of his picky nature. Dinner becomes a battleground.

Thankfully, a new study has offered a glimmer of hope for parents who are worn down by the constant fight to get just one morsel of broccoli to pass their child's lips.

According to research conducted by Cornell University in New York, weary parents should quit worrying about mealtimes and chill out a little more.

Basically, we should stop beating ourselves up about broccoli.

In the study of 326 primary school children, it was discovered that it's natural for children to experiment with taste and quantity and that they do so in order to learn about what foods they like and how much they need to eat to become full.

They're not necessarily being naughty, they're just listening to their own bodies. In fact, on average, if a child is allowed to serve their own food, they eat only around three-fifths of it, compared to an adult who tends to eat around 90 percent of what they ladle out for themselves.

By insisting that their children finish every last bite on their plates, parents are interfering with the natural order of things and tampering with the special self-regulation system kids are born with.

They might even be setting their kids on the path to a lifetime of over-eating and weight issues.

Instead of trying to force their children to eat every single morsel parents need to back off.

I got a brilliant piece of advice about this when I was a new mum, trying to get my toddler to eat a wide range of foods. The trick to getting a child to eat well was simple, I was told just serve small portions of varied and nutritious foods consistently.


The secret was to do so without making a song and dance about it. The thing is, kids can read a parent's cues almost instantly. If you're anxious about mealtimes then your child will pick up on that. If you have a more relaxed approach, then he will too.

Yes kids will gravitate to some foods more than others, but it's important to remember that the more pressure you put on to get them to eat absolutely everything you give them, the more they'll resist.

More than a decade later, I can report that this laid-back approach actually worked. Both my kids now eat a vast array of foods and will try just about anything.

I'm not saying they're going to bombdive the Brussels sprouts this Christmas, I'm not a miracle worker.

But luckily the only anxiety they ever have around mealtimes is whose turn it is to fill the dishwasher afterwards and, to my mind, that's a result.