How to get your kids to eat healthier

battered chicken

Many parents want their children to eat more healthy food, but struggle to find an effective way to do it. Shouting, wheedling and bribing don’t work, or only work for a short period of time.

Fortunately, there are two pieces of research that can give you the insights you need to help your children enjoy healthy food.

The first is research on three to five-year olds. The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. In the study, Lanigan and her colleagues wanted to see if statements that t simply convey the benefits of healthy food would influence their choices.  Before beginning, the 87 children in the experiment ranked how much they liked four foods chosen from different food groups including, green peppers (vegetable), tomatoes (vegetables), quinoa (grain), and lentils (protein). The children were then offered two of the foods they liked the least twice a week. Over the six-week experiment, the researchers presented the children one of their low-rated foods with information about the benefits of the food. The other food was merely given to them to taste.

A month later the children were eating twice as much of the food that was accompanied by positive information compared with the food that was just served to them with no comment.

watermelon child eating

The phrases were chosen to represent accurate nutritional information, but in a way that reflected the goals of three- to five-year-old children. So, for example, when lentils were given, the researchers would tell the children that this will help you grow bigger and run faster.

So, that’s how to tempt young children to eat more healthy food, but what about teenagers?

Many teenagers love junk food and will eat it to excess, so parents are often at their wits end. A research project by Christopher J. Bryan and others from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has found that a simple and brief intervention can provide lasting protection for adolescents against the harmful effects of junk food marketing.

Food marketing is deliberately designed to create positive emotional associations with junk food and to connect it with feelings of happiness and fun. The researchers went into classrooms and taught groups of students about the way junk food manufacturers try to hook consumers on addictive junk food for financial gain. Control groups were given factual information about healthy food.

The students were followed over three months. The girls ate less junk food regardless of whether they were in the experimental or control groups. For the boys the marketing expose was much more effective; they reduced their daily purchases of unhealthy drinks and snacks in the school cafeteria by 31 percent in that time period, compared with the control group.

So regardless of your child’s age you can try these strategies to get them to eat better, but remember to use the age-appropriate strategy.

(c) 2019 Jane Thurnell-Read

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