Eat Well, and Your Kids Will Too
Does a typical dinner at your house often feature three different meals to satisfy the various needs of your family?
If so, read on.
A new study has confirmed that when children eat the same healthy meals as their parents, they’ll grow up to make healthier food choices as well. In fact, researchers even found that eating the same food as their parents has a bigger impact on their health than any other factor, including snacking between meals and social background.
However as most parents know, this is often easier said than done.
“It’s an interesting study, especially since we’ve all been there,” said Nancy Black, a registered dietitian at Abington Memorial Hospital. “Parents want harmony and silence at the table so they can eat, so it’s easy for them to give in and let their kid have chips instead of broccoli. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The study also found that children who ate the same foods as their parents were less likely to consume unhealthy ready-meals targeted to kids. Concern over the lack of nutritional value in these pre-packaged meals and snacks has steadily grown, particularly as it can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients including iron, zinc, and Vitamin D. And then there’s the issue of obesity, and all of the other health risks that come along with it. Enjoying the diverse menu of their parents, on the other hand, also allows kids to develop a palate for a variety of foods, which is important for maintaining a balanced diet.
From a behavioral standpoint, doctors say the findings aren’t surprising. Researchers also observed that kids didn’t manipulate their parents as much when they ate as a family. This can be largely explained by the fact that children under the age of five mostly learn by copying their parents and other caregivers. When they see their parents eat, they learn to become less fussy.
Black added, “When you sit down and eat together as a family, it leaves an imprint on kids that this is normal for people to do.”
So how should parents approach future meals for their picky eaters?
While it’s important to eat healthy meals together as a family, Black says there’s one crucial thing all parents must do.
“Most of the time, we’re cooking for ourselves. We cook what we like and then hope we can coax our kids to eat it too,” said Black. “But the most important thing for parents to realize is that they need to respect their child’s preferences.”
While parents shouldn’t let their kids dictate the family menu, Black does encourage them to consider their child’s tastes and food preferences, and to get their kids involved with planning and cooking meals when the child is old enough. “When they have more control and involvement, kids become more interested in food.”
Black also emphasized the need to establish specific meal times so kids can learn the importance of mindful eating. “When you set specific breakfast, lunch, and dinner times, it will help kids develop healthy eating habits that will even stick with them into adulthood.”