by Nicolette Orji
If you were to place a piece of fruit, vegetable, and slice of pizza in front of a child, and ask them to choose which one they would like to eat…it would most likely be the slice of pizza. In a situation like this, many parents may wish for their child to pick that piece of fruit or vegetable. Picky kids like this can drive parents insane, because parents want to make sure that their child is getting the right nutrients every day. According to the British Heart Foundation, 94% of children do not eat their recommended five-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables.
So why are children like this?
We live in a society in which everything is fast paced, especially the food. FASTFOOD. (Yes, I know, it is so hard to resist at times). It may be hard to keep a child away from it. There are advertisements on T.V. and billboards…it seems like everywhere we look, we are inundated with offers for energy-dense and nutrient-sparse foods. Did you know that some companies spend more money on the marketing of their foods/meals (e.g., the Big Kid’s Meal) than on the production of their foods? What’s even worse is that many companies spend an inordinate amount of money on marketing to children and youth.
Another reason why a child may not like fruits and vegetables is because they are forced to eat them. Research finds that pressuring children to eat ANY kinds of foods can be counterproductive, resulting in children learning to develop an aversion to those foods. Studies done by Leann Birch at Penn State University have shown that children learn to prefer the foods parents often pressure them to eat. These just so happen to be the foods that parents really want children to eat more of, like vegetables. At the same time, we don’t believe that parents should give in to their child’s every food desire. Apart from making healthy foods readily available and accessible, parents can also be the best role models for children by eating and enjoying the foods they want children to learn to like more.
What can parents do?
Relax, There is a solution…or a couple!
Buy Healthy Snacks
- Limit intake of chips and sodas and focus more on vegetables and fruits.
- You can also consider low-fat snacks like string cheese and whole wheat snacks like crackers.
Prepare Meals and Snacks in Advance
- Making meals and snacks in advance is a good way to avoid the needing to grab unhealthy foods due to limited time.
- Ready-To-Go Fruit Salad?
I make a big batch of fruit salad each week and store them into small containers. This is very convenient for me with my busy schedule. It is also a better alternative to buying chips at a vending machine on campus.
Eat Together as a Family
- Apart from eating together, mealtimes can be a special time for connecting with children and using your own behavior to model health eating practices.
- A recent study found that adolescents in high school appreciated time spent together with family during meals.
Let Kids Have A Say
- Let children have a role in planning what they are going to eat. Let them help make meals, even take them out to buy the groceries.
- After doing some research on this topic I ran into an article on the blog Mommy’s Hangout called “6 Healthy Junk Food Alternatives”. Instead of forcing children to each fruits and vegetables, try some alternatives for junk food. These healthy alternatives could help improve and add variety to your child’s diet.
Some examples from the website:
Food kids love: Chips
A healthy alternative: Bagel Chips
Food kids love: Hot Dogs
A healthy alternative: Turkey Dogs
Food kids love: Oreos
A healthy alternative: Bananas and Raw Chocolate Spread
Food kids love: French Fries
A healthy alternative: Cheese Straws
Food kids love: Sugar-Sweetened Cereal
A healthy alternative: Organic Cereal
Food kids love: Ketchup and Ranch Dip
A healthy alternative: Hummus