Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Determines Children's Eating Behavior?

As parents and caregivers, we all want the children in our lives to eat a nutritious diet so that they can be healthy and active children.  But we all know that getting children to eat a healthy diet can sometimes be a challenge!  I wanted to share with you an article that was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  The authors put together a review of the current data on determinants of children's eating habits.  They reported on strategies that worked, and those that had negative effects on healthy eating habits in children.

Here is what they found:
1)  Overcontrol, restriction, pressure to eat and the promise of rewards all have negative effects on children's food acceptance.
2)  Having at least one parent at the family meal is associated with children eating more fruits and vegetables.
3)  Severely restricting the diet of overweight children may cause that child to be more likely to overeat.
4)  The earlier a child is exposed to a wide variety of foods, the healthier their diet is as an adult.
5)  Having fruits and vegetables widely available in your home will increase your child's intake of these foods.
6)  In the same manner, the more "junk food" you have in your home, the more of it your child will consume.

As the authors of this paper put it: "Children like what they know and eat what they like".  In other words, children grow to like the foods that are made available to them on a regular basis and this shapes the types of foods they will prefer for the rest of their lives.

What we need to be asking ourselves about the food environment in our homes is:
  • Are we buying, preparing, and serving foods that we want our children to get in the habit of eating?  
  • Are we practicing the "Division of Responsibility" during our meal service and allowing our children to determine how much they want to eat or not eat, and not pressuring them to eat?       
  • Are we serving a wide variety of foods and introducing our children to many different healthy foods?
Something to think about as we head into a new year!

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