Healthy Eating in Children: Things That Influence Food Choices
A number of things have a powerful influence on how and what we eat.
Consider the following as you plan healthy food choices for your child:
Availability of food.
Because food is so readily available in our culture, it is easy to eat without
thinking about how hungry you really are or how much you have already eaten
that day. Some experts believe the high availability of food is responsible
for the increasing numbers of
overweight children and adults in the United States.
Schools have vending machines and snack bars with poor food choices. Fast food
restaurants are everywhere. In fast food restaurants, "super-sized" meals can
lead us to purchase and eat more food than our bodies need. Even regular
portions are very large compared to the past. Portion sizes are increasing.
Having a structured meal and snack schedule can help you and your child
keep your hunger in check. This helps avoid unplanned fast-food and vending-machine purchases.
Eating routines. Adults
and children who eat regular meals tend to have better diets and be closer to a
healthy weight than those who "graze" throughout the day. One of the main
barriers to planning regular and balanced meals is a busy lifestyle. But taking
the time to plan meals can help you improve your and your child's nutrition.
Family meals are an important time to share and discuss the day's events. They
also teach children what balanced meals look like.
Food marketing. Marketing creates a desire for many
less-than-nutritious foods. Snack foods—marketed not for their nutritional
value, but for their fun and taste—often replace the healthier foods we could
be eating. Foods advertised on television during children's shows tend to have
very little nutritional value. Marketing also caters to a busy lifestyle.
Grocery store shelves are crowded with frozen meals, microwave-able meals,
instant soups and stews, and prepackaged lunches. These foods usually contain
few fruits and vegetables and are often high in fat and salt. Marketing often
targets children through tie-ins between movies, fast-food restaurants, and
toys. Children then pressure their parents to visit certain restaurants and buy
foods for them based on whether they can get a desired toy. Resist this type
of marketing, and plan the meals you know are nutritious.
Cultural and social meanings of food. We may serve and eat
foods because we were brought up eating them and find them comforting. Some
people eat, or don't eat, certain foods based on religious, political, or
social beliefs. Many ethnic foods can be very healthy, and they have developed
over time because they supported life. For example, spaghetti with tomato, meat
sauce, and Parmesan cheese includes four food groups. Tacos contain four food
groups also. These foods can be nutritious if they don't contain too much
anxiety, boredom, and
stress often lead to unhealthy eating habits, both in
adults and children. Sometimes attempts to change eating habits cannot succeed
until we learn to manage the emotions and stress in our lives. In children,
ongoing stress can cause a change in normal growth, leading to too much or too
little weight or height gain. Fixing the problem that is causing a child's
stress (rather than resorting to a weight-loss or weight-gain diet) will return
a child to a normal growth pattern.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.