Kids make healthier choices when parents cook
Most everyone loves a home-cooked meal, and these meals are not without some added benefits. New research says for kids, food lovingly prepared at home helps them make healthier, more nutritious eating choices—even when they’re away from home.
“In general, research shows that children tend to eat inadequate amounts of nutrient-rich foods while eating large amounts of sugary and fatty foods,” said lead study Catherine Shehan, in a statement.
“It’s encouraging to see that parents can possibly affect the quality of their children’s food choices outside the home by spending more time cooking,” added Shehan, a graduate student in Penn State University’s Department of Food Science in University Park, Pa.
Shehan’s research findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in late July.
Participants included more than 60 children between the ages of 4 and 6 along with their parents. Each family visited the food science laboratory twice. While there, children tasted a variety of foods and then rated them. These foods included so-called high-energy, dense foods such as chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookies, along with lower calorie foods such as broccoli and grapes. Next researchers gave the children unlimited access to these same foods with no adult interference. They could eat as much of these foods or as little as they wanted.
Researchers found that children whose parents reported more time spent on food preparation at home chose to eat meals lower in energy density than children whose parents reported less food prep time.
The study results suggest that meals prepared at home may influence how children eat, even when they eat outside the home.
Carrie Ek, registered dietitian at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., says there are other ways to affect what kids choose to eat when their parents aren’t looking.
“It’s really important for parents to not push the nutrition envelope too hard. They can be hard on kids, which can cause them to both overeat and undereat,” she says.
“There’s an art to encouraging kids to make healthy eating choices, and parents have to learn to achieve balance with it. Give your kids some space to self-monitor, especially portion sizes,” Ek says.
One of the biggest ways Ek says parents can help their children make nutritious choices is teaching them to eat what’s on the dinner table. “If we don’t expect them to eat what we serve them, then they never will. If they don’t have another choice, they should at least be able to manage eating different foods because you’re not always going to eat at home,” she says.
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