It’s really hard to feed children well today for a number of reasons. Here are four of them plus ways to minimize their effects.
1. We’re busy and eat on the run
We’re all busy, and depending on your child’s age, you may not always be aware of what they’re eating. This obviously becomes more of a problem as children get older, especially with fewer parents and children sharing mealtimes. Mealtimes used to be a place to re-connect and chat about the day. They were an important social event and one within which positive eating behaviors could develop. Large food companies also capitalize on parent’s lack of time to explain good food habits, and disagreements about food choices often arise at the supermarket when everyone is tired, cranky and hungry.
- Provide a stable and predictable pattern to mealtimes, so children are encouraged to learn about food in a social context and become aware of food being a priority.
- Ensure healthy food is available at all times and serve healthy food in a happy, relaxed manner, to expose children to ingredients that foster good choices and habits. A simple way to do this is to dedicate one shelf in the fridge to simple, easy to snack on foods, so they’re easily accessible to your children.
- If your time is really too limited to commit to a daily family meal, then commit to at least one or two such meals every weekend.
- Ensure your children’s friends are welcome to pop over on the weekend. Join them at a meal and do a lot of listening so they associate being with you as a fun experience – where healthy and delicious food just happens to be available.
- Create family rituals so you can provide healthy food and education in a fun and relaxed environment. For example, make Friday night homemade pizza night.
2. Children are bombarded with advertisements for junk food.
Children are faced with prompts and enticements to buy processed food, which financially enriches corporations while impoverishing their health. These multi-million dollar companies’ manufacturer food with a focus on their bottom line, with advertising aimed at capturing children’s attention and appetite. Their aim is to make food that’s specialized for children, with characters, colors, textures, and tastes that kids adore. Smart advertisers link positive emotions with specific food choices, increasing the chances that children will pester their parents for particular foodstuffs. Research has shown that children find food tastier if it’s eaten out of a famous fast food store package. Due to this junk-food culture, children are introduced to adult food much later, when their taste buds have already become entrained to favor highly sugared and flavored child-centric meals.
- Hungry children are more prone to nag for junk and processed foods when you’re out and about. Make it a habit to either make tasty snacks with them or purchase them so you always have a snack available for them.
- Slowly decrease their reliance on junk food, versus banning it.
- Discuss how factory food doesn’t serve anyone’s health with your friends and/or partner so that your children overhear your conversation rather than feeling as if you’re lecturing them.
3. Children aren’t readily exposed to adult food
Gone are the days when children were given small tastes of adult foods, to get them used to different textures and tastes. The advertising and marketing material aimed at children impacts their perception of what treats and good foods should taste like, so adult food doesn’t look appealing. A lack of extended family and community insulates children from learning about traditional healthy foods and how to prepare such foods. Grandparents seldom have the opportunity to share food preparation methods with their grandchildren.
- Make meals that are suitable for both adults and children. If you’ve made child-centric meals for a long time, slowly wean your children onto more adult foods by introducing them slowly but regularly, until the whole family is eating the same food.
- Look for ways to introduce traditional healthy foods and food preparation methods to your children so they develop respect for preparing foods from scratch versus relying on factory food.
- Make sauces and dressings for children to dip their food into and use fun platters and serving spoons to make meals interesting and more enjoyable for all concerned.
- Get children involved in setting the table for mealtimes, encouraging them to add their own special touches, such as candles, flowers, and leaves. This encourages their respect for meal preparation.
4. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on creating addictive food
Manufacturers of junk food have focused on making products that our taste buds crave, in state-of-the-art food laboratories, focused on something called ‘mouth-feel.’ Scientists came up with this term to describe the unique slippery and smooth taste sensation that fat gives to your mouth and tongue. It is no mistake that most processed foods contain loads of processed fats – and either sugar or salt – to capitalize on this ‘mouth feel’ – making such foods extremely addictive. Exposing children to such foods at an early age establishes their taste preference for such foods, which largely determines what foods they’ll crave and consume later in life.
Food additives are also aimed at making processed food tastier but haven’t been tested individually, for short or long term safety. No studies have confirmed what their interactions may be, nor the cumulative effects of their consumption. Some additives in combination interfere with the development of neurons, specialized brain cells.
- Find recipes that result in delicious snacks and meals that your children can also help you create. When they get involved in snacks or meal creation they’re more likely to eat the results.
- Discuss food labels so they become aware of what’s added to factory food and the negative effects of such additives and foods on their health, including mental health. For example, show them how long the list of additives is on processed foods versus a healthier alternative.
None of these approaches are overnight ‘fixes’ but over time your children can learn to appreciate real versus factory, processed food. If you want to become a smart consumer you need to learn to make smarter, more thoughtful food choices. If you want your child to become a smart consumer, you have to start the process.
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Feed Your Brain: 7 Steps to a Lighter, Brighter You! McCabe, D. Exisle Pub. Australia. 2016
Mindless eating – why we eat more than we think. Wansink B. Bantam Books, New York. 2007.
They are what you feed them – how food can improve your child’s behaviour, mood, and learning. Richardson, A. Dr. Harper Thorsons Pub. UK. 2006.
The crazy makers – how the food industry is destroying our brains and harming our children. Simontacchi C. Penguin Putnam Inc, New York, USA. 2001.