There are so many interconnecting factors that influence children’s eating behaviours – it is not all down to the parents.
Government guidance on school meals
Packed lunches provide a unique connection between the school, parent and child. They allow for open communication between the parent and child about food preferences. Studies have found that children have more control over the content of their packed lunch than the parents! (Elsevier 2018).
We all know how fussy children can be…!
Children establish food preferences and dietary habits very early on in life. In fact, some studies show the mother’s diet while pregnant will impact the baby’s future likes and dislikes!
According to Public Health England, more than 1 in 5 reception children are overweight or obese. This increases to 1 in 3 by the time they are 10-11 years old.
Another infant behaviour is food neophobia. The rejection of unknown foods is a normal developmental phase that typically peaks around 2-6 years of age. Food neophobia should decrease as they get older and have more exposure to new foods. The most commonly rejected food is vegetables, due to their slightly bitter taste.
Offer healthy food choices
Studies show that repeated exposure to foods, such as vegetables, is the best way to promote healthy eating choices and diverse intake of food as they get older. This is where parents’ patience comes in handy, as infants may need up to 15 exposures to the same food before they develop trust in it, followed by an additional 10-15 exposures before they start to like the food.
The likelihood of a food being offered this much depends on the parents’ preferences and whether it is something they regularly have in the house. Whereas having meals outside the home, like school meals, exposes children to different dietary patterns and ingredient combinations.
Repeat exposure to new foods has also been shown to develop social skills. Children learn it’s OK to take a little while to get used to something.
How parents can help
The parental role in food choices is complex and puts a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Research shows they should exert some control over their child’s dietary choices, but should not go as far as to restrict any foods. Restriction has been scientifically proven to promote excessive consumption of the same food later in life, which often causes excessive weight gain.
How we can help
Our interactive Classroom Edition system, allows children to choose their meal in class each morning. All parents need to do is top-up their online dinner money account. This encourages children’s autonomy and decision-making skills. Parents can check the payment history online and have discussions with their children about their food choices.
To find out how the Dinner Money module can help your school, call us on 02380 016563.