October 2011/Prepared Foods -- Parents worry about what their kids eat. They worry if they eat too little or too much, or if it’s the right kind of food. In modern times in the U.S., parents and experts traditionally would shrug off a lot of parents’ concerns about their picky children, saying it was healthy to respect a child’s wishes. Many parents figured the child’s palate would eventually mature, and then he or she would one day welcome a world of foods with different tastes, smells, textures and appearances. According to one study being conducted in the U.K., perhaps parents need to reconsider their approach to food.

Loughborough University researcher Faye Powell observed 75 families during their mealtimes to see if she could find out what makes some children picky eaters. She doesn’t yet have all the answers, as this study is the first part of a longer study to isolate factors that contribute to fussy eaters. However, Powell noted picky eaters put stress on parents and their families. Furthermore, these kids are at higher risk for “feeding problems.” So far, she has noted that a “friendly interaction between mother and child, instead of coercive strategies…may encourage young children to try different foods.” (See this magazine’s Daily News at http://bit.ly/n8bilA.)

Trying to feed children a well-balanced diet is important, because a child who eats well becomes an adult who eats well. The focus on the battle of obesity and overweight has centered on teens and adults. But, if we can’t teach small children to eat a wide variety of foods, when they are younger and their parents have the most influence, how can we expect them to suddenly change when they get older? How are they to learn what a healthy diet is? Powell’s study may help shed light on some feeding techniques that work. Additionally, eating a well-balanced diet isn’t just important for weight management, but also, for good general health and longevity.

In the meantime, parents shouldn’t give up. As the parent of a formerly picky eater, I spent many meals being frustrated by my son’s lack of culinary curiosity. But, my husband and I never stopped offering different foods, and we employed creative methods of enticement. Today, that son is willing to try just about any food. Plus, he loves to cook. Now, it’s my turn to make faces, when dinner seems a bit unusual. pf