“Finish your homework and I’ll give you a chocolate.” “Score 90% and above, we’ll go out for pizza.” “Eat those fruits right now.” “Drink that milk and we’ll go to the park.” Do these sound familiar?! You may have experienced this as a child or now as a parent while dealing with your kids. These are some of the random conversations that have been happening in families forever.
Food has become synonymous with rewards, manipulation, drama, and sometimes even mental torture. This reward or manipulation always revolves around junk food. We tend to lure the child with pizzas, burgers, chocolates, and not an apple or paratha to get the things done. Right?
Parents are, to some extent, guilty of taking away the pure joy of enjoying food from the life of their kids. Childhood obesity is becoming a primary concern. The easy availability (apps that deliver food to your doorstep, fast food joints at every nook and corner), lack of physical activity in kids (worsened during the pandemic), kids confined to screens have only aggravated the obesity issue.
The Junk Food Addiction
Food that is high in salt, sugar, fat, calories, and low in nutrients is junk food. Improved marketing strategies, better and faster transportation and media influence has brought junk to our doorstep.
It is this convenience, taste, and palatability that get kids and adults addicted to junk food alike. Children believe food advertised on screens is healthy. They are getting distanced from their own culture, cuisine, and tradition.
Factors Influencing Eating Behaviour In Kids
Certain factors play an active role in promoting good food choices and healthy eating in the future.
- The Child – Gender, age, temperament, early feeding style, flavour experience, experiential learning
- Food – The energy density, colour, palatability, flavour of different foods
- Community/Socio-economic status – Parent income, media influence, socializing trends
- Parents/Family – Knowledge of nutrition, parenting style, parental control over food choices, frequency of shared mealtimes, and meal structure
Strategies to encourage healthy eating in kids
Junk food is here to stay. Nevertheless, there is a lot that can be done.
- Lead by example – Kids learn by observation. A family system that revolves around healthy eating will promote good food choices. Providing good food experiences is vital to a child’s upbringing.
- Food as a reward – If you reward good behaviour with junk food it sets a very wrong precedent. The child starts associating junk with good or acceptable behaviour.
- Covert control – Do not bring home junk deliberately. Remember, out of sight is out of mind. Explore healthy snacking options.
- Promoting self-regulation – Let the child get in touch with their hunger and satiety cues. Do not decide portions or force-feed.
- Lifestyle changes – Encourage physical activity, especially outdoors. This will automatically reduce their screen time and promote adequate and quality sleep.
- Authoritative parenting style – Studies have shown how this is associated with a lower risk of childhood obesity. However, there is a thin line between authoritative parenting and control. Excessive control over food choices disregards the child’s independence.
On the contrary, giving in to the child’s unhealthy food requests overrides a child’s ability to eat as per hunger and satiety cues, a catch-22 situation.
- Family meals – These are important in a child’s life as they set the ground for imposing rules and expectations.
The creation of a non-obesogenic child-rearing environment starts from home. Knowledge of nutrition and fitness has, thus, become of paramount importance to both parents and kids. The key lies in striking the right balance between healthy eating and indulgence.
Author: Shraddha Nayak