The Importance of Getting Children to Eat Well

Posted on: January 23rd, 2020 in mindset by Pat Mesiti | No Comments

I came across an article this week that said children’s diets need to be controlled by their parents, and their parents must be confident that they can get their children to eat healthy foods. The article was based on new research out of South Australia.

I’m not sure what I thought of that conclusion! I am the father of daughters and, believe me, it is not easy to influence their behaviour. I often feel they have more control over me than I have over them. They give me suggestions on what clothes to wear, tell me to look after myself and even give me advice about exercise and diet. From a young age they seemed to know what they wanted. Are all girls like this? I’ve heard that boys are easier going, but I really don’t know. However I will say that as a father I always tried to be firm but fair. There were rules in our family that needed to be obeyed. I wanted to give my children a sense of self-respect, responsibility and pride. I also wanted them to leave home with all the basic skills, including healthy eating habits.

Parents need to stand firm

This latest study from the University of South Australia and Flinders University found that there is clear connection between parents’ ‘motivations’, and their children’s intake of unhealthy foods. That basically means if parents are 100 per cent committed to getting their children to eat well then children will, but if parents capitulate and give up too early then their children will be more likely to eat unhealthy food.

I know a lot of parents who are worn down by their children’s behaviour. They just give up trying to control them. This study proves that it is vital that parents take control, and be a loving authority for their children. The study focussed on three to seven year olds, that age when children can really get picky about what they want to eat.

South Australia and Flinders University carried out the study. The lead researcher was doctoral candidate Brittany Johnson. “Parents hold the purse strings to the family pantry, which means they can help make a big difference in improving children’s diets,” Ms Johnson said in a media release.

Kids eat up to eight serves of unhealthy food a day

Statistics show that kids are eating up to eight times the recommended serves for unhealthy foods – most commonly, cakes, biscuits, savoury pastries and takeaways – and, that less than five per cent of Aussie kids eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables.

I understand that young children aged four to eight need 4.5 serves of vegetables a day and at least one serving of fruit. Do the children in your life eat enough fruit and vegetables?

50 per cent of parents don’t try to control their children’s eating

Ms Johnson’s research assessed the motives and behaviour of 495 parents (of three to seven-year-olds) and found that only 50 per cent of parents tried to cut back on their kids’ consumption of unhealthy foods. Wow! Ms Johnson thinks this can be changed by boosting parents’ confidence, intention and planning.

“Parents need to believe that they can make changes and remember they are in control. Repeating in your head that YOU can reduce how much unhealthy foods kids eat and practising this can help,” she said.

“This can be as simple as making a plan before you go to the supermarket, avoiding the lolly aisle, and being mindful when selecting off-the-shelf school snacks which, while convenient and appealing, are typically jam-packed with fat, sugars, salt and little else.”

“To improve children’s diet quality and reduce the risk of chronic conditions we need novel, scalable and effective interventions. We must better support parents to make positive changes. This can include providing clear information about unhealthy food recommendations, appropriate portion sizes, the benefits of children eating healthier foods and the impact of unhealthy choices.”

“We can all help by making changes to reduce how many unhealthy foods we buy and consume. Only then will we start to see change.”

Kids can get malnutrition if they don’t eat well

I have heard of children in Australia suffering malnutrition because they refuse to eat healthy foods. They don’t eat enough vegetables and they end up with sores that won’t heal and cracks in their lips and on the cuticles of their fingers because they are not getting the right vitamins and minerals. It’s breath-taking to think that in a country as rich as Australia, children can be malnourished! But it is the parents who are throwing in the towel and not insisting their kids eat their right foods.

This research also reminded me that parents can make a real difference to other areas of their children’s lives if they stand firm and refuse to give in to the demands of their offspring. Children should be made to do their homework and help out around the house. They need to learn that in this life we have duties and responsibilities that must be fulfilled. I think parents fail their children if they don’t teach them this. If we don’t teach our children how to eat well, meet responsibilities, and be respectful to others then we have failed our children.

But what if you’re not the parent?

Maybe you disciplined your own children, and now your children are grown up. Today you might not be bringing up small children, but perhaps you have little kids in your extended family. You are an aunt or uncle or grandparent. It can be tricky if the children in your extended family are not being taught the basics: healthy eating, responsibility and manners. To what extent can you educate in these areas? That is a very complicated question – and one I’ll look at in my next blog.


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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