Mealtime should be a time for connection, enjoyment and bonding.
But in too many households, mealtimes are associated with stress and disconnection.
How do mealtimes look in your house?
Does your family sit round the table sharing stories of the day, while tucking into a delicious home cooked meal?
Or are you constantly nagging your kids to try new foods, bribing them to eat vegetables, and even cooking separate meals for everyone in the family?
Why Food Shouldn’t Be Used As A Treat
Food is a common source of stress for parents. Many of us worry about whether our children are eating enough of the right things. And whether they’re eating too much of the wrong things. As parents, all we can really do is make sure we’re providing our children with a healthy, balanced diet, and then leave them to choose what and how much they eat – frustrating as that might be when we’ve spent an hour and a half slaving away over a vegetarian lasagna.
Relying On Food To Regulate Emotion
According to new research carried out by three UK universities, parents who use overly controlling feeding practices might be unintentionally teaching their children to rely on food to regulate their emotions. Commonly used parenting techniques, such as using food as a reward or treat, can increase the likelihood of a child being involved in emotional eating in later childhood.
The research was carried out by Aston University, Loughborough University and Birmingham University. Researchers analysed the feeding practices parents regularly used with their children aged three to five years. When the children were aged between five and seven years, the research was then followed up, to see whether the earlier feeding practices had any impact on the children.
Priming Kids For Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is characterised as eating for emotional reasons rather than because of hunger. For example, researchers assessed how likely children were to eat snack foods or play with toys when they were feeling mildly stressed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study concluded that the children of parents who used food as a reward were more likely to emotionally eat a few years later.
Why does it matter? Dr Claire Farrow, one of the lead researchers in the study, explains: “As a parent, there is often a natural instinct to try and protect our young children from eating ‘bad’ foods: those high in fat, sugar or salt. Instead we often use these food types as a treat or a reward, or even as a response to ease pain if children are upset. The evidence from our initial research shows that in doing this, we may be teaching children to use these foods to cope with their different emotions, and in turn unintentionally teaching them to emotionally eat later in life.”
Sweet Foods Are Still Okay
This doesn’t mean those sweet foods you love have to be completely off limits for the kids. It simply means you should avoid using these foods as a bribe, or a reward for good behaviour. Instead, teach your children that they can eat these foods sometimes, as long as they don’t consume too many. The eating patterns your children learn in early childhood will most likely stay with them for the rest of their lives. Emotional eating is linked to obesity and eating disorders, and encouraging your children to develop a healthy relationship with food could reduce their risk of suffering from these conditions in the future.
You can read the full study here.
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