Feeding strategies can have a profound effect on children's food preferences

Researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology have discovered that parents' feeding strategies can have a profound effect on children's food preferences. Parents who use 'pudding' as a reward for eating greens or restrict pudding if vegetables are not eaten, are storing up problems for their children in later life.

The psychologists have found that using the strategy of offering pudding as a reward for eating vegetables is teaching children to desire foods that are bad for them. They have also discovered that withholding foods when vegetables are not eaten, results in children viewing the restricted food as desirable.

Parents who use these strategies are, in effect, teaching their children that the reward or restricted foods are desirable. When parents state that there is a restriction on a certain food, they are unknowingly inducing a preference in the child.

The conclusions of the survey show that a policy of 'everything in moderation' is the answer to a balanced diet in children. Psychologists recommend that parents make foods such as chocolate and crisps available to their children on a daily basis in small amounts. This means that there is still a restriction on the food, but that the child is not aware of this, thereby avoiding inducing any preference for these kind of foods in the child.

The survey was carried out by researchers amongst children aged 3 - 4 years. Dr Gillian Harris, lead investigator in the project for the University and Principal Clinical Psychologist at The Children's Hospital Birmingham, says, 'Inadvertently parents are teaching their children about the 'naughty, but nice' philosophy. By using these strategies, a preference for a certain type of food is being set up and this means that when a child reaches an age where he or she can choose what to eat, it is likely that the high-fat, high-calorie foods will be preferred. The research has important implications for nurseries, schools and parents trying to get children to eat a balanced and moderate diet and to ensure children's healthy food choices.'


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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