Every infant is like clay ready to be molded into any form wished by his/her parents but as the baby grows, he/she starts accepting or rejecting things based on discretion. I am not trying to say that the baby’s character, attributes and personality are the sole discretion of parents but I mean it when I say that parents have a greater responsibility in nurturing their children into better citizens. Today’s world is complicated and today’s kids are like little adults making choices and deciding things right from their younger years. Even a 5-year-old child clearly knowns his/her ‘wants’ in life, is ready to plan the weekend and chooses between dresses while getting ready for an outing. Their thinking capability is beyond par and most of the times they out win parents when it comes to decision-making skills. But a child is a child and every child’s first role model is his/her parents around whom the child’s entire life revolves, at least during first few years of life. What parents eat, how they behave, what they talk and how they react are seeded inside the child’s brain and their outcomes are visible as and when situations arise.
Eating habits last a lifetime and are the foundation for a healthier life. Every family has their own style of cooking, preparing dishes and serving them. What type of dishes you prepare and how often you eat out determine your child’s choice of foods too. We cannot expect our child to choose between carrot sticks and boiled broccoli when we want bread rolls and cutlets. I strongly believe that every parent tries to impart healthy eating habits to their children right from infancy when we start giving mashed potatoes or beans. I’ve had a roller-coaster experience with my baby girl who sent out outright rejections to many of the veggies including carrots, beets and beans. But this did not deter me from my path and now she loves a bowl of boiled broccoli, peas and corn any time of day! While food preferences are largely learned dislike is the primary reason why many parents stop offering vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods to their kids. But now, we have a new study that proves that repeatedly offering a variety of vegetables to kids improves their acceptance and intake.
The research team involved in the study chose 32 families where their children consumed extremely low amount of produce. All the children were between 4 and 6 years of age and their parents completed an online survey before becoming a part of the study group. The study participants were split into three groups-those receiving a single vegetable, kids receiving multiple vegetables and the third group whose eating habits were not changed in any way. The study team collected information on food intake in different ways- vegetables consumed at home, school or daycare was recorded through food diaries and the research team served two dinner meals at the research facility which included broccoli, cauliflower and green beans. Every parent was provided with vouchers to buy veggies and also were instructed on how to cook them and also the portion sizes that could be offered to their kids. Those parents serving one vegetable introduced broccoli and those serving multiple veggies included broccoli, zucchini and peas. Every child was served a vegetable thrice a week for 5 weeks and those kids who tried a vegetable were given stickers as rewards. One has to note the conscious decision of providing non-food rewards in the absence of which the entire study could become meaningless (food rewards only make children crave more for processed foods). While no group showed any difference in vegetable intake at the start of the study vegetable acceptance increased both for single and multiple vegetable groups during the intervention. A significant difference in intake was noticed in families consuming multiple veggies-from 0.6 to 1.2 servings (the increase in portion size lasted up to three months after study completion) while changes were not noticed for those eating a single vegetable or in those who did not change their eating habits. Most of the parents were grateful as they found serving vegetables to be quite easy thereon from what was considered to be a daunting task earlier.
Despite improvements in portion sizes none of the families met the required portion intakes that’s pretty saddening. Nevertheless, this can be a first step towards accommodating increased veggies portions in kid’s meals that could improve their health. For more help regarding planning healthier meals for children please visit www.firsteatright.com.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.