The results are in. Mothers who led by example and persuaded, rather than ordered, their kids to eat their vegetables had healthier diets, said Sharon Hoerr, MSU professor of food science and human nutrition.
The study conducted by Michigan State University and which appears in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focused on the eating habits of low-income families. “Mothers should stop forcing or restricting their kids’ eating,” says Dr. Hoerr. “They’d be better off providing a healthy food environment, adopting balanced eating habits themselves and covertly controlling their children’s diet quality by not bringing less healthy foods into the house.”
If lower-income mothers want kids with healthy diets, it’s best to adopt healthy eating habits themselves and encourage their children to eat good foods rather than use force, rewards or punishments. And what about kids who’d rather play with their food or consume only junk food? “With picky eaters, it’s best to coax and encourage them to eat rather than yell at them,” Hoerr says. “Other ways to get them interested in having a balanced diet is to take them to the grocery store or garden, and help them select new foods to taste as well as allow them to help cook at home.”
Parents should opt for maintaining regular meal and snack times, offering smaller portions of healthy foods and allowing the children to decide how much they will eat.
In continuing this research, Hoerr hopes to develop home-based and interactive educational materials for parents who want to encourage healthful eating.
Additional MSU researchers contributing to this study include Megumi Murashima, doctoral student, and Stan Kaplowitz, sociologist. Part of Hoerr’s research is funded by MSU’s AgBioResearch.