Role models in children’s eating behavior
Most of us know that only eating chocolate is not healthy, but does your 3-years-old child know this as well? And what about the taste of olives, did you like it from the first bite, or did you have to try it several times?
From a young age, we all need to learn to eat and parents are important in this learning process as they shape children’s so-called ‘home food environment’ (1). This includes for example all the food available at home, the food rules, the parents’ own eating habits, their knowledge about food and their feeding styles and practices. All these aspects can be very different in different families: if a child does not like to eat broccoli, some parents may for example force the child to eat the broccoli, others may tell him he can leave it, and others may tell him he will get a present if he tries the broccoli.
Does it matter what you do? Well yes, how parents shape the home food environment influences how a child thinks about food, his food preferences and his eating behavior. It’s important to promote healthy eating from the start as eating habits of a young child tend to maintain until adolescence and adulthood (2,3).
But this sounds easier that it is (and I think most parents can relate to this). Parents have the best interest in feeding their child, so if there would be one successful method to make every child like healthy foods and eat exactly the right amount of food he needs, every parent would use this. We, humans, are however very complex, and there are many individual differences between people. Just as children have different genes, temperaments and behaviours, they show different eating behaviours and food preferences. Because of these individual differences and their interactions, some feeding strategies will work from some children but not for others, and this even within the same family. Challenging!
Seen the complexity of eating and feeding, it’s in everyone’s interest to learn more about children’s eating behaviours, the links with personality traits and with aspects of the home food environment. As an early stage researcher in Edulia, I will focus on the impact of caregivers’ feeding practices on preschoolers’ (2-6 years old) eating behaviours and intake regulation, by taking into account some individual characteristics (such as children’s inhibitory control and categorization abilities).
1: Rosenkranz, R.R., Dzewaltowski, D.A. (2008) Model of the home food environment pertaining to childhood obesity. Nutr Rev., 66 (3)
2: Nicklaus, S., Boggio, V., Chabanet, C., Issanchou, S. (2005) A prospective study of food variety seeking in childhood, adolescence and early adult life. Appetite, 44, 289-297.
3: Klesges, R.C., Stein, R.J., Eck, L.H., Isbell, T.R., & Klesges, L.M. (1991) Parental influence on food selection in young children and its relationships to childhood obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 53, 859-864.
4: Galloway, A. T., Lee, Y., & Birch, L. L. (2003). Predictors and consequences of food neophobia and pickiness in young girls. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 103(6), 692-698.5: Pliner, P. (1994) Development of measures of food neophobia in children. Appetite, 23, 147-163.