parents and children
Parents are the back bone of a child’s life. They feed them, clothe them and decide what is best for them. But how do parents know what is best? Are children receiving the best possible food and nutrition?
There is a combination of factors why parents may have issues with what they feed their children. Time is a major issue. So is the feeling of guilt at having left them in the care of others. When it comes to trying new foods and flavours, parents are often not willing to have the arguments or to take the time to encourage children. It is far easier for them to provide foods which are quick and easy that they know their children like. Often snacks will be given that are unnecessary but reduce the feeling of guilt that the parent feels when picking up their child from your care. Overeating is a major issue as is snacking for comfort. Unwittingly, a lot of parents are encouraging a behaviour that will stay with the child for life. Also snacking on foods that are high in sugar is giving children unnecessary calories and contributing to weight gain. Tooth decay is also on the rise and this is attributed to children eating too many sugary, sweet snacks.
Parents need to be informed about the best foods to give their children. Advice should be available to inform them of the implications of their food choices. A survey commissioned by the Infant and Toddler Forum gave a fascinating insight into the eating habits of young children today. The survey looked at what 1000 parents with children aged between 6 months and 3 years gave them to eat and drink.
15% are fed adult convenience foods or ready meals for most meals
29% are eating takeaway meals at least once a week
29% have chocolate or sweets almost every day
23% have crisps almost every day
16% have fizzy drinks almost every day
By 2050 the Foresight Report (commissioned by the Department of Health) estimates that Britain will have a population that is mainly obese. This is an alarming statement, but the trend is already here. Although obesity is not caused by food choices alone, being educated about the implications of giving children unhealthy foods is vital. As nursery managers you play an important role in many children’s early years. Some of the responsibility must fall onto your shoulders to help to support and educate parents. Working with parents you can ensure the best healthy start for the children who are in your care.
The difficulty from a nursery point of view is how to go about taking this responsibility. You can give guidance as what parents should be feeding their children. You can decide what food and drink you serve the children in your care, giving them an opportunity to try new foods.
Remember that children will eat new things if others around them are eating them too. If the other children and hopefully the staff are sitting down and eating together then the food will be seen as safe and will be tried. Often bad habits are picked up at home where mum and dad will be eating biscuits for breakfast and wondering why their child will not eat a bowl of cereal.
Parents can seem intimidating but often this is because they are rushed before work or tired at the end of the day. If this is the case then offer them a particular time to come in and have a chat or offer them a workshop. If time is an issue, you could add information to your website and encourage them to read it.
Parents are always trying to do the best for their children but often do not know how. It may be that parents think they are being careful giving their children all the right foods, but once they start to learn about sugar and fat contents for instance they are horrified at what they are feeding them.
At Greenlane Children’s Centre we ran a healthy eating course for 5 weeks where each session was 1.5 hours long. We looked at foods from different meal times and made parents aware of the ingredients particularly the sugar, salt and fat. The workshops were very interactive and the parents were encouraged to read the foods labels and to weigh out the ingredients such as the sugar, fat and salt. The most alarming findings made by the parents were the amounts of sugar in foods such cereals, snacks and fruit juices - even ones that were perceived to be healthy.
An interesting point that came out of the course was how many parents were giving their children sugary cereals for breakfast. They were aware that they were not the healthiest option but were shocked as to just how much sugar there was in a serving. We talked about alternatives and ways to encourage children to eat more fruit and fibre at breakfast.
At every session there was a selection of fresh fruit for the children and adults to try. This always got eaten and dispelled some myths that “my child does not eat fruit”. This shows that fruit and healthy foods need to be offered so that they can be tried and when in the company of others.
Over the course we found that parents were keen to learn to cook and we took this on board and made a few simple dishes in the limited time period that we had. The reason that the parents on the course were buying ready meals was really down to their confidence in the kitchen being low and being stuck for ideas as what to cook. In order to boost confidence we made a soup, that showed them how easy and quick that could be and how much better than a bought one. We provided participants with a recipe book of what had been cooked during the course.
The course evaluation showed where changes had been made. One parent who admitted giving her child fizzy canned drinks stopped completely and changed to a watered down squash drinks. One lady who had been giving her children potato hoops as a snack stopped and gave fresh fruit instead.