Of all the factors that influence a child’s food choices, parental and household influences have the biggest effect, according to the Baystr Center for Natural Health. Because children learn by imitating others around them, it is critical that family members set a good example when it comes to healthy eating. Household rules and limitations on different food items are also important to influencing healthy eating patterns.
Children learn about eating by watching others, especially their parents. If a child continually watches mom, dad or an older sibling eat junk food, it’s only natural that the child will also reach for junk food. Likewise, a child isn’t going to grab an apple from the refrigerator if it’s unfamiliar to her. It’s important for family members to not only refrain from eating unhealthy foods around children, but also to be mindful about setting healthy examples and choosing healthy snacks and meals for themselves.
You should not only expose children to healthy food, but teach them why good nutrition matters and how they can choose foods wisely. Cook with your children and discuss how the healthy ingredients help to build and maintain strong bodies. Show your children what to look for on package labels, such as high vitamin content and low fat and sugar content. Give your child the opportunity to make healthy food choices for herself by providing a selection of nutritious snacks from her to choose from. Use coloring pages and activity sheets to reinforce concepts in an enjoyable way for kids.
Rules and Limitations
In addition to the eating habits of those around them, children’s food choices are also influenced by what is available to eat. According to Heather Patrick, a child nutrition researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine, “children are more likely to eat foods that are available and easily accessible, and they tend to eat greater quantities when larger portions are provided." Therefore, establishing rules and setting limitations for the family is essential to influencing children’s food choices. Keep junk food and prepared convenience foods out of the cupboards, and stock the refrigerator with quick and healthy food such as cut, fresh fruit and low-fat cheese cubes. Watch portion sizes and limit snacks to two or three nutritious choices a day.
Eating meals together as a family has a positive influence of children’s food choices. According to a University of Edinburgh study, family meals lead to better food choices in children. Eating together as a family not only ensures that all members are consuming the same, healthy food, but also encourages discussion about food among family members. Furthermore, children who have companionship during meals are likely to eat more servings of the basic food groups, according to a 2005 study published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition."
- Baystr Center for Natural Health: “Parents Matter Most in Children’s Food Choices”
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: “A Review of Family and Social Determinants of Children’s Eating Patterns and Diet Quality”
- European Food Information Council: “The Positive Influence of Family Meals on Children’s Food Choice”
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