If you think it’s enough for one parent to put those veggies on the plate and to bring healthy groceries into the home for the kids, think again—according to new research both parents must practice healthy eating in order to act as positive role models for their children and to influence their eating habits in a favorable manner.
The findings come from a Finnish study that was recently published this month in the journal Food Quality and Preference. In the past, most studies have looked at eating habits in children based on mom’s attitude—not dad’s—but this one shows that it requires dad’s help, too.
“Teaching children to eat their greens is not something mothers should be doing alone,” explained Kaisa Kahkonen, the lead author of the study and a dietician and researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, in a released statement. “A positive example set by both parents is important, as is their encouragement of the child.”
And while some kids might be pickier eaters or be more stubborn based on genetics, that nurture component that’s tied to parental guidance and modeling can definitely make a child want to eat better foods and be willing to give those greens a fair shot.
Looking at 100 parents of 114 children aged 3 to 5 years old, with mother and father living together in the same home, they observed questionnaires regarding eating habits, such as what they ate on a typical day, how often they ate raw and cooked vegetables and fruits, and when they sat down together for meals as a family unit.
The outcome? More than 70 percent of the children in the study consumed raw fruits and veggies at least 5 to 7 times per week, just 20 percent ate cooked vegetables, though, and only 19 percent had berries.
A third of the kids ate cooked veggies and/or berries less than once a week. Based on research, family meals didn’t matter as much as thought, but the father’s behavior sure did.
How Parents Come In
The mothers ate more vegetables (both raw and cooked) and more berries and other fruit than the fathers did. To no surprise, kids with mothers who ate more ate more too. Yet, those kids whose fathers did too had the most—especially for dads eating cooked veggies.
“This is in line with previous findings indicating that fathers’ higher vegetable consumption increases children’s vegetable consumption and that a higher fruit and vegetable consumption level is achieved by consistent support from both parents,” the researchers said.
Here’s How to Make Health Eating Something the Whole Family Shares
- Add in Cooked Veggies at Dinner: Add in some cooked spinach or sautéed broccoli with that chicken or fish. “This study suggests placing greater emphasis on the serving of vegetables at dinner,” the researchers said. Since cooked veggies need the most work over raw (think carrot sticks or ants a lot—popular kids’ snacks), cooking them is key, and they’ll retain more nutrients.
- And add a veggie or fruit at each meal: Make sure both mom and dad nosh on the veggies for dinner, the fruit for breakfast, and those crudité and dip for a snack after school. Sharing these snacks with kids reinforces that its behavior everyone participates in.
- Make Veggie the Star a Night a Week: Take #MeatlessMonday a step further and make a rule to include a veggie as the main dish for one meal a week. “For example, vegetables can be served as a main dish, as an accompaniment to a main dish and as salad,” the researchers continued. Try cauliflower steak or a zoodle bowl instead of pasta.
- Cook at Home Together: Ditch takeout and fast food in the home—cook instead—with both parents in the kitchen too. Have kids help wash vegetables with one parent and chop them with another. Seeing everyone participate in health eating keeps the message and the lesson consistent.