A Parent's Influence on a Child’s Food Preferences
Almost every parent at some point is faced with the challenge of getting their child to eat a healthy balanced diet. Children do not always react the way we wish them to when it comes to eating healthy food. As a parent it is your responbility as an adult to mould your child's eating behaviour throughout their childhood in terms of food choices and food preferences.
It all begins during pregnancy, whatever a mother consumes is shared with the unborn baby in the amniotic fluid. Once the baby is born, it is most likely that the baby will prefer to eat the type of food he/she was fed in the amniotic fluid. When I was pregnant with my daughter I ate a lot of carbohydrates, meat and chicken and I do not recall eating sugary food. My daughter is turning 2 this year and it has come to my attention that she enjoys eating chicken and meat and does not really like eating sugary food and snacks. For instance, she sips on a juice a few times and sucks a lollipop for a minute and afterwards throws it away without any concern.
A mother continues to influence their child’s food preferences through breast feeding, a baby is fed whatever a mother eats from breast milk. Therefore, when the baby starts eating food it is most likely that they will prefer the type of food they were fed through breast milk. However, it is a different scenario for babies who are on formula milk. A baby on formula milk might prefer food that have contents similar to those in formula milk or might try to explore different food flavours to figure out which food they like and enjoy most. Babies who are fed formula milk could experience various difficulties adapting to a healthy balanced diet. Breastfeeding has more advantages than disadvantages, the biggest disadvantage of breastfeeding is if the mother smokes, drinks alcohol or is not on a healthy balanced diet.
Access and availability of a range of food
By sticking to a healthy balanced diet, parents are protecting their children from the risk of obesity, and chronic and cardiovascular illnesses. Parents should limit their children's intake of fat, salt and simple sugars, and encourage them to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Children aged between 1 to 3 years are most likely to be open to trying new food than children who are older. Parents should therefore ensure that their children are exposed to different kinds of food instead of being restricted to the same food.
Parents have full control of the type and amount of food their children are exposed to when purchasing groceries. Parents should pay attention to the ingredients in pediatric food products such as baby cereals. Some pediatric food have high levels of refined salt or sugar, these salty and sugary ingredients are initially put in these products to encourage children to enjoy having these products, which can be good for business.
Being your child's role model
In most cases, parents are their children's role models when it comes to eating behaviour and food preferences. Children watch their parents when they eat, their facial expressions and body language, and they can tell whether they enjoy the food or not. A child is more open to eat the food that their parent eats and is most likely to reject food their parent does not eat. Therefore, as a parent if you do not eat a particular type of food, you might have to put more effort into convincing your child to eat that particular type of food.
T.V.E. Kral & E.M. Rauh, 2010, Eating behaviour of children in the context of their family environment, Physiology and Behaviour 100, 567-573.
© 2019 Grace