For Kids to Eat Healthfully, Both Parents’ Examples Likely Matter
A positive example set by both the mother and the father promotes the consumption of vegetables, fruit, and berries among 3- to 5-year-old children, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland. The study explored the association of the home food environment and parental influence with the consumption of vegetables among kindergarten-aged children. The findings were published in Food Quality and Preference.
Children eat inadequate amounts of vegetables, fruit, and berries across Europe and elsewhere. As the health and nutrition benefits of these foods are well known, increasing their consumption among children is a challenge many countries are struggling with. Dietary habits also track from childhood to adulthood, and the period of early childhood is critical for adapting to a diet rich in greens.
The researchers studied the consumption of vegetables, fruit, and berries, and the family’s home food environment, through a survey taken by parents. The study looked at 114 kindergarten-aged children and their parents (100) in Finland. Raw and cooked vegetables and fruit and berries were analyzed separately.
The researchers found that to a certain degree, the consumption of vegetables is affected by different factors than the consumption of fruit and berries. Maternal example was associated with the consumption of raw and cooked vegetables as well as with the consumption of fruit and berries. Paternal example, on the other hand, was the strongest for cooked vegetables.
“This shows that teaching children to eat their greens isn’t something mothers should be doing alone. A positive example set by both parents is important, as is their encouragement of the child,” says researcher and nutritionist Kaisa Kähkönen, MHS, RD, from the University of Eastern Finland.
The study also showed that dinner is the most important meal at home when it comes to teaching children to eat vegetables. The families participating in the study often ate dinner together, highlighting the role of parental influence on the development of children’s dietary choices and preferences.
Dinner constitutes a daily opportunity to serve vegetables in a variety of different forms: as the main course, as a side dish, and as salad.
“Variation can be created by serving raw vegetables, such as the ever-popular cucumber and tomato, accompanied by cooked ones. In fact, many root vegetables, cabbages, and squashes are best served cooked,” Kähkönen says.
When it comes to eating fruit, evening snacks were the most important meal.
The study shows that many families still eat fewer vegetables, fruit, and berries on average than would be beneficial in view of health promotion. Cooked vegetables and berries were the least-eaten food items among the study population.— Source: University of Eastern Finland