Parents spend time on kids food, live healthier lives

Published 6:48 am Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Parents who spend time and trouble preparing food in the home may help their children develop healthier eating habits, research has shown.

A study has found that the amount of time parents devote to meal preparation has a direct effect on their children’s independent food choices.

Children whose parents spend more time in the kitchen want to eat food that is less densely packed with calories.

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US nutritionist Catherine Shehan, from Pennsylvania State University, who led the research, said: “Even after controlling for family income and whether or not children had a parent at home full-time, we found that children whose parents spend more time cooking make better choices.

“Our food preferences develop early in life, so getting young children to eat nutritious foods can help them stay healthy in the long run.”

The study involved 61 children aged four to six and their parents. Each family participated in two laboratory visits during which children tasted and rated their liking for a variety of foods. They were then given unlimited access to the same foods without adult interference.

Children could eat as much or as little of any of the foods, which included high calorie offerings such as chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookies. If they preferred, they could choose lower calorie foods such as grapes and broccoli.

The parents, meanwhile, completed questionnaires providing information about the home food environment, their children’s food preferences and habits, and the family’s socio-economic status.

The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Seattle, suggest that the way parents prepare meals at home influences children’s food choices even when they are left unsupervised.

Healthy school lunches also set kids off on the right track each day.  Here is a list of favorites I would put together for my children.  They enjoyed home-packed lunches entirely through their elementary school years and continued the practice on their own in high school.

Cheeses and Raw Veggies:  My daughter loved cheese sticks as much as carrot and celery sticks in her lunch.

Meat and Fruit Salads: We always had an ice block in the kids lunch box for keeping things fresh throughout the morning until lunch time.  That way, tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad and fruit salads could go off with them in the mornings.  They also had access to a refrigerator if they chose to simply put their lunches there.

Sandwiches: The obvious healthy nut butters and jams work great for many kids.  But we also would make leftover meatball sandwiches, including ground organic turkey meatballs.  Pitas and wraps are in!  And one can be quite creative stuffing and filling these sandwich holders with a wide-variety of leftovers.

Soups:  Remember the lunch boxes with perfectly matched thermoses?  What a great way in winter to send your child off with a chicken noodle or vegetable soup.  Chili and chowder are exceptionally hearty.

Desserts:  Nut cookies with almonds and walnuts are a healthy dessert choice.  Fig bars and whole-wheat ginger snaps or sugar cookies are also a big hit.

Apple crumbs, lemon bars, and fresh raw fruit are also wonderful finishes to a healthy school lunch.

It pays to spend time turning off evening TV and think about the next day’s meals for the whole family.  With some early planning, health and productivity improve for all.