Added sugars are not recommended for children under two years of age, so you may be surprised to hear sugary food is a regular food choice for many children by age two.
What we eat as young children can play a significant role in determining the kind of dietary choices we make as adults.
One study has found food preferences in later life are influenced by the foods we eat as children, so what we feed our children is really important in the long-term.
Are Parents Making Poor Dietary Choices For Their Kids?
Children who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of being overweight as adults. Being overweight puts you at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes and hypertension.
Recently a shocking report surfaced of a three and a half year old being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as a result of bad diet. You can read more about it in How The Heck Does a 3.5 Year Old Get Type 2 Diabetes?
It is recommended young children are fed a diet high in vegetables, fruit, good fats and healthy protein. However, many young children are given sugary foods which often have little or no nutritious value.
How Poor Dietary Choices Impact a Child’s Health and Development
As a parent, the food choices you make for your kids can have a huge impact on their health, growth, and development. Poor diets, high in sugar, fat and processed foods do more harm than good.
Lack of Nutrients
Without essential nutrients like protein, iron, and calcium, children can suffer the consequences. Things like stunted growth, bone weakness, and anemia are very real risks. Kids need a balanced diet with lots of whole foods – fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to get the vitamins and minerals their growing bodies crave.
Behavior and Learning Problems
A bad diet often means a bad mood. Sugar highs and crashes can cause irritability, anxiety, and mood swings in children. Hyperactivity and lack of focus are also linked to poor nutrition. The food you feed your child really does impact how they feel, learn, and behave.
Lifelong Health Issues
The foods kids eat in childhood establish habits and tastes that often last into adulthood. A poor diet raises the risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems later in life. As a parent, one of the best gifts you can give your child is an appreciation for nutritious whole foods that will serve them well for years to come.
By making healthy mealtime choices for your kids now, you’re ensuring their growth, development and good health for the long run. Their wellbeing and future is worth the effort. Start today – your child will thank you someday!
Tips for Parents to Make Better Food Choices for Their Kids
As a parent, it can be hard, it’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to feeding your kids. Here are some tips to help you make better choices:
Offer healthy snacks
Keep cut-up fruit, veggies, yogurt, nuts or granola on hand instead of chips, candy or processed snacks.
Let your kids help pick out and prepare snacks. They’ll be more likely to eat them!
Limit sugary drinks
Replace soda, fruit juice and sports drinks with water, milk or unsweetened beverages.
Sugary drinks provide empty calories but no nutrients. Limiting them can help avoid weight gain and improve health.
Make meals a family affair
Eat together as a family as often as possible. Home-cooked meals are healthier and help build bonding time.
Let your kids help with meal planning and preparation. They’ll develop cooking skills and be more invested in trying new healthy foods.
Be a good role model
Practice the healthy eating habits you want to see from your kids. Let them see you enjoying nutritious foods and staying active.
Explain why certain foods are better choices to help them build an understanding of nutrition. Lead by example through your own balanced diet and exercise.
Providing kids with nutritious whole foods in a supportive environment is key. Making healthy choices together as a family will set your kids up for success and a lifetime of wellness. Focus on progress, not perfection, and keep trying – you’ve got this, parents!
What the research says?
One study tracked the foods eaten by over 400 babies from birth through to 20 months of age. Researchers found by 18 months old, many children were eating less of the core recommended foods and were instead opting for less healthy choices.
Researchers also discovered some of the discretionary food choices such as biscuits, chocolate and other sugary foods were being consumed by babies aged as young as six months. Children this young are unable to choose their own foods and it is up to their parents or caregivers to provide healthy options for mealtimes and snacks.
For some parents, lack of education surrounding healthy food choices may be to blame. Many parents reach for the sort of foods they enjoyed as children, without pausing to consider the ingredients. For other parents, it may be pester power driving the unhealthy food choices forwards.
Is Marketing and Advertising an issue?
Marketing and advertising definitely play a role in influencing what foods and drinks parents buy for their children. Marketing at supermarkets, food packaging and television advertisements of unhealthy food choices are aimed towards children, for some parents, this may be part of the problem.
When kids see flashy commercials, social media ads and product placements for junk food and sugary beverages, they beg their parents to buy them. Unfortunately, many parents give in to the pressure and purchase these low-nutrient, high-calorie options.
The Power of Persuasion
Advertisers spend billions each year carefully crafting marketing campaigns targeting children and families. They know that catchy jingles, cartoon mascots, and free toys will capture kids’ attention and sway their preferences. While companies have the right to promote their products, many critics argue these persuasive marketing practices take advantage of children’s vulnerabilities.
Parents should be aware of how strongly ads and marketing can influence their kids’ food choices. It may help to limit screen time, teach media literacy skills and set clear rules around what is and isn’t okay to buy. The next time your child begs for an unhealthy snack they saw on TV, suggest a more nutritious alternative instead.
The key to promoting a healthy diet is to continue to offer your child a healthy, balanced meal at each opportunity. Your child may like some foods more than others – and some may not get touched at all, but if you continue to offer meals made from healthy core ingredients, your child will usually accept new foods. Setting a good example of healthy eating is also important. What your children see you eat will set the tone for what they understand a healthy diet to be.
Don’t undervalue the importance of healthy eating right from the get go. Your child will enjoy the fruits of a healthy diet for years to come, so start as you mean to go on.
Stuck for inspiration? Check out BellyBelly’s list of healthy lunchbox ideas.