Never force a child to eat. Your child. Another child. Any child. Never.

Don’t force a child to eat in any circumstance, for any reason whatsoever, with any method. Not by force, and not with persuasion. Not with distractions, flying the spoon like a plane, dancing with a teddy bear or showing cartoons on your mobile phone. Not by praising the flavour of the eggplant, or by extolling the nutritional benefits of tuna fish.

Not through high-level diplomacy or through base bargaining:

“You have to eat fish”

“I don’t like fish!”

“You have to eat at least two slices of fish”

“OK, I will eat this and this”

“No, you have chosen the two smallest slices, that’s not fair; if you eat these, you shall eat also half a carrot!”

Not through emotional blackmail:

“Mum is very sad, Mum has prepared these lentils for you, with lots of love, and you reject them!”

Not through hateful comparisons:

Eve, it is said, used to say to her son Cain: “Look at your brother Abel, how good a boy, he is eating is veggies”.

Not by scolding or menacing, not by promising or applauding.

Not by ridiculing or insulting:

“Oh, what a cry-baby, he is afraid of eating fish!”

Not by making your poor child feel guilty of the greatest injustices of our century:

“Hungry children in Africa would be happy to eat these vegetables, and you despise them!”

So many adults have told me over the years: “I would like to return to my seven years and tell my mother: ‘OK, send these vegetables to Africa, now, and leave me alone. I won’t deprive African children of their food!’ … but, at seven years old these good answers don’t come easily to mind.

Don’t do that because it’s unnecessary.

All children, all animals, have a hunger mechanism that tells them when to eat and how much to eat.

“But children are still immature, they don’t know, they need to be guided…”

All animals eat. Not only cats and rabbits; clams are also animals, they also eat. Clams have no brain, and they eat what they need. Your baby is certainly more intelligent than a clam!

Don’t do that, because force-feeding children usually leads to unhealthy diets.

She won’t eat fruit, so let’s put some sugar in the fruit. She won’t eat veggies, so let’s put some ketchup in the burger, ketchup is a tomato! He won’t have a banana, but at least he had some chips! We all have preferences, we like best some foods, others not so much, and we even hate some foods.

If today there is pasta with tomato, most children will say yum! and will eat happily a little more than usual. If today there are chickpeas and spinach, many children will complain and will eat less. Don’t say a word! That’s normal! You would never insist with macaroni because she is already eating them; you would insist, coax, praise with spinach.

After months and years of this treatment, spinach, that I didn’t like so much, now I hate to death; and macaroni, that I liked a little bit more, now I worship, because they are the only food that I can eat without my parents nagging me. Unfortunately, the healthier a food, the more will parents insist, and so teenagers finally hate all healthy food.

Don’t do that, because your child is suffering.

“I’m afraid of mealtimes”, many a mother has said to me. Well, if you are afraid, your child is terrified. You have knowledge and experience, you have a life broader than being just a parent, you honestly believe this is good for your child. But your child has no life except being your child, he cannot understand why his loving mother suddenly changes at mealtimes and makes him cry.

“But I have to insist a little bit, or she wouldn’t eat anything. She rejects the very first spoonful”.

Yes, of course. Children are not stupid. If she wants to eat 5 spoonfuls, but she knows you will coax, cajole, menace and promise for an hour, she cannot eat her five spoonfuls in three minutes. Because there is a real risk that, in the next 55 minutes, you manage to make her eat two more. If I, an adult, need to eat 50 spoonfuls, and sometimes I eat two more, that’s not a problem. And if I eat two more spoonfuls every day… well, I have done it, and this is the reason I can no longer use my old trousers: ten or twelve pounds that were not here when I was a young man. But going from 5 spoonfuls to 7 spoonfuls is not “just a little bit more”; it’s a 40% more food than your child needs, every day, and that can only mean morbid obesity in ten years. Nobody can eat a 40% more, every day, and remain healthy. So your child needs to distribute evenly the five spoonfuls she needs among the 60 minutes you are feeding her. And, if someday she eats 6 by mistake, she will accept only 4 for dinner.

And, if some parents, some days (not always!) succeed in making their child to eat one spoonful (20 %) more? Well, what do you think is the cause of the epidemic of juvenile obesity? Could “eating just a little bit more” be related to overweight in a somehow intricate and mysterious way?

Don’t force your children to eat, because you love them, and there are far better ways to enjoy your time together.

My Child Won’t Eat and Kiss Me by Carlos Gonzalez are reissued by Pinter & Martin, £9.99 www.pinterandmartin.com

Carlos González is a renowned Spanish paediatrician and international bestselling author. He studied medicine at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and later founded the Catalan Breastfeeding Association (ACPAM). He currently runs courses on breastfeeding for medical professionals and is a regular expert speaker at international conferences on child nutrition. He writes for a range of newspapers and magazines and since 1996 he has been breastfeeding correspondent for Ser Padres (Being Parents) magazine. He is happily married with three children and one grandchild and lives near Barcelona.

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