Making picky eaters clean their plates can backfire

Although most parents of preschool and elementary-aged children strive to provide their children with a nutritious, balanced diet, some of their strategies for promoting healthy eating can backfire, experts say.

For example, three out of five parents customize meals if their child doesn’t like what others are eating, according to the University of Michigan Health CS Mott Hospital National Child Health Survey.

Meanwhile, one in eight parents demand that children eat everything on their plate. And while only one in three believe the standard American diet is healthy for children, few have tried alternative, potentially more nutritious menus at home.

“Feeding young children can be challenging due to general demandingness, reluctance to try unfamiliar foods and ever-evolving food preferences,” says Susan Woolford, pediatrician and co-director of the survey.

“Preschool and primary school age is an important time to establish healthy eating patterns. However, parents’ worries about whether their child is eating enough or getting the nutrients they need can lead them to adopt practices that actually sabotage their efforts to get children into healthy eating habits in the short and long term.” .

The nationally representative report is based on 1,083 responses from parents of children ages 3 to 10 surveyed in February.

What is a nutritional diet?

Only a third of parents believe the standard American diet is healthy compared to half who seem to rank the Mediterranean higher in nutritional value. However, few have tried alternative diets for their child.

“Parents may recognize that the standard diet in the U.S. includes high amounts of saturated fat, added sugars, sodium, and refined carbohydrates, which can lead to excessive calorie intake beyond nutritional needs and contribute to health problems.” says Woolford.

“However, despite this recognition and evidence suggesting that other diet choices can help prevent many diseases, only about 9% have tried the Mediterranean diet for their children and fewer have tried to feed their children a vegetarian diet “.

Parents should make sure children are still getting adequate nutrition if they try diets that eliminate certain food categories, she adds. Diets that limit animal products, for example, will require alternative sources of protein such as meat substitutes, tofu or legumes for children.

And while keto diets have become popular among adults, they are generally not suitable for children.

Family dining rules

Fifteen percent of parents say their family rule is that kids finish what’s on their plate, while more than half say kids should try a little bit of everything and just under a third say than dessert if the meals are left unfinished.

But parents who try to force kids to eat can encourage portions that go beyond feeling full, Woolford warns.

“Requiring children to eat everything on the plate, or withholding dessert unless all the other food is eaten, can lead to overeating, especially if the portions are too large for the child’s age,” she says .

She agrees with the recommendation that “parents provide and the child decides.” This makes parents responsible for providing healthy choices while allowing children to select which foods to eat and how much they want to consume.

Sixty percent of parents will do something separate if their child doesn’t like the food on the dinner table, and that often leads to a less healthy alternative, Woolford says.

“Instead of allowing the child to choose an alternative menu, parents should provide a balanced meal with at least one option that their child is normally willing to eat,” she says.

“So if their child chooses not to eat, parents shouldn’t worry, as this won’t cause any harm to healthy children and they’ll be more likely to eat the options presented at the next meal.”

She points out that children learn by watching and imitating, so it’s beneficial for parents to model healthy eating through a balanced diet as their child’s eating habits and taste preferences mature.

Avoiding snacks between meals can also help children have a better appetite and a greater willingness to eat the foods offered.

Precisely eat and protest vegetables

Parents describe their biggest challenges in ensuring their child receives a healthy diet, as the child is a picky eater, the higher cost of healthy food, and food waste. Fewer say they don’t have time to prepare healthy food.

Almost all parents surveyed report that they have tried at least one strategy to get their child to eat vegetables as part of a healthy diet, such as serving vegetables every day, arranging vegetables the way their child prefers, trying vegetables that their son he had not had before and leave them. Children choose vegetables at the grocery store.

Others involve children preparing the vegetables, hiding vegetables in other foods, or offering a reward for finishing the vegetables.

“Unsurprisingly, parents say that demanding and getting kids to eat vegetables were among the biggest mealtime challenges,” says Woolford. “Parents should try to include children in meal decisions, avoid pressuring food consumption, and offer a variety of healthy options at each meal so children feel more in control.”

What is the right portion size?

Portion size is key to mitigating the risk of childhood obesity, but it can be difficult for parents to “get the right size” for a child’s portion.

To determine their child’s portion size, nearly 70% of parents surveyed give their child slightly less than the adults in the family, while fewer let them choose how much to take, use pre-determined portion sizes from the packet, or give their child the same portions as adults. .

Woolford recommends parents seek out sources of help. The United States Department of Agriculture, for example, provides a visualization called “MyPlate” that can help parents estimate the recommended balance of major food groups and provides guidance on estimating portion sizes.

When grocery shopping or meal planning, parents surveyed say they try to limit the amount of certain foods to help their child maintain a healthy diet, with more than half limiting foods with added sugars and processed foods.

But it can be difficult to identify unhealthy foods. Added sugars or processing may be present in foods marketed or packaged as healthy, Woolford says.

Parents should read labels, avoiding marketing on the front of packages and focusing on the details on the back. They should pay special attention to nutritional information and ingredient lists, especially if they are long with unrecognizable items, as well as sodium, added sugars and fats.

Woolford also encourages getting kids involved in grocery trips, spending time in the produce section and asking them what they’d like to try.

“Have them help in the process of choosing the healthiest options, not necessarily the ones that are directly advertised to kids, but the foods they’re willing to try that are lower in sugar, fat and salt,” she says.

“They spend most of their time in the produce section and try to make it fun by selecting new options from different parts of the world that they haven’t tried before.”

Source: University of Michigan

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