As parents, we often fret about whether our children are “getting enough”. A mother recently explained, “My daughter just won’t eat for me”. I replied, “But why would she eat for you? Shouldn’t she eat because she’s hungry and wants food?”. That mother’s statement highlights how dinner time can be a place of conflict, a battle field where power is played out. Here’s what NOT to say if your child is a fussy eater:
1. “You’re not getting dessert if you don’t eat more of your dinner”
Using dessert as a threat or a sweetener (no pun intended!) is so tempting, especially when you know that most children love nothing more than a sugar trip. But here’s the problem: it shows that you’re eating savoury food simply to ‘get to’ the sweet stuff, and that the savoury food is not to be enjoyed but to be eaten under duress. It also shows to your child that you’re a little desperate. It’s an indirect but clear message.
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2. “Eat it up. I don’t want to see anything left on your plate”
Ah, the sins of our parents! How often were you told as a child to “eat it up, that’s all you’re getting” or “your father worked hard for that food”?
One of my memories of dinnertime as a child is sitting around the table with my six siblings, and being warned to “eat up everything before it goes cold”, or “there are children starving in Africa, so eat it all up.” And so we all obliged by licking out plates clean, literally, as if that would somehow help alleviate a famine in another continent. Clearing the plate was usually met with parental approval: “Well done, Bernadette. Aren’t you great!” 
Childhood eating habits can be so deeply engrained, and it’s tempting to tell our children the same message. Don’t do it. These messages are often based on guilt and the need for approval. Be aware of how your own childhood eating habits can lead to extra eating for your child, and sometimes means that we do not always need or enjoy the food we eat.
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3. “Good girl, you ate all your bolognese!” 
You might say this in a fun and happy way, but you may also be sending the message, “It’s good when you eat it ALL”, or shouting the message, “I really want you to eat it ALL!” / “You will receive approval when you eat it all”. It’s much better to instead praise your child for activities, such as doing well with homework, clearing away their toys, or learning how to read the time.  After all, eating is our most basic instinct, and it should be enjoyable.
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4. “You’re not leaving the table until you eat your peas” 
Have you ever stood over your child and insisted that the now cold greens are eaten? Then step away. Don’t do it. You have more chance, not less, of them choosing to eat a food if you don’t tell them to – and not just in the short-term.
Research has found that a majority of third-level students whose parents had insisted they ate a food as a child, later did not didn’t eat that food when they left home. The students viewed the parent as the “winner”, and themselves as the “loser”.
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5. “You’re so fussy with food”
Even if your child would happily live only on plain cooked pasta or cereal, do not refer to them as ‘fussy’. This label gives them a reason not to eat. After all, no one is expecting them to eat this, and instead expecting them to wrinkle their nose in disgust when the dinner placed in front of them. It tells them, “I am a fussy eater, and that’s just the way I am”. Don’t let them hear you telling it to other people, either.
Weight Management Expert