Childhood is the prime time for laying the foundations of positive and life-long healthy eating habits. A report from a group of experts, Nurturing Children’s Healthy Eating, shows the key role of families in building good eating habits in children. Every month, we will bring you a summary post, highlighting some of the key messages taken from this report, in order to help families nurture healthier eating habits.
The pleasure of eating influences what, why and how much we eat. Pleasure can be a friend as well as a foe in encouraging children to eat healthily. Here are some tips from the report to help you use pleasure as an ally in building healthy eating habits in children.
“Pleasure may be used as a lever to encourage healthy eating behavior in children.”
Pleasure as a lever to promote healthy food choices
The pleasure of eating is a key factor in determining our food choices and the amounts we eat. The pleasure of eating can be divided into 3 dimensions: the sensory dimensions associated to the food, the meal’s social context and cognitive factors. In a World where energy-dense foods are overabundant, the pleasure of eating can be a threat to healthy eating. However, it can also be used as a lever for promoting healthy eating habits.
Overcoming the opposition between nutrition and pleasure
As healthy foods can be both tasty and healthy, adding the pleasure dimension to nutritional recommendations or public health campaigns could help to overcome the opposition between nutrition and pleasure. Instead of focusing on the nutritional values of healthy foods, it could be interesting to pinpoint the pleasure of eating healthy foods.
Studies have shown that children enjoy the taste of healthy foods (vegetables for example), especially if they are exposed to them several times. The repeated positive exposures in a warm environment is a robust mechanism for making them enjoy healthy food.
Play on senses to make healthy food appealing
Sensory pleasure can be used to increase the pleasure of eating healthy foods by making them more appealing. A food should not just be good for health, it should also be good to eat, look and think. This can be done by cooking healthy foods with cooking techniques or recipes that children enjoy.
On a same approach, the “sensory imagery” can be used to limit the unhealthy food intake. The aim is to please people with small quantities of food ingested: thinking of the food (e.g. energy-dense food or low-nutrient food) before eating it will increase the pleasure expected of eating it, without reducing the actual pleasure derived from consumption. It may work for adults as well as children.
A positive social context
Social context is one of the factors that influence the pleasure of eating and could help children like healthy foods. By introducing healthy foods in joyful events, such as birthday parties or family meals, children will associate healthy foods with the joy of these moments.
During family meals talking about food and expressing enjoyment of eating healthy foods is also important for shaping children’s enjoyment of mealtimes.
Promoting healthy choices
Since parents are role models they can promote healthy foods to their children and try to limit access to unhealthy foods.
- Make positive comments to encourage children who eat healthy through emotional persuasion.
- Avoid nagging about how much and what their child eat to avoid negative interactions.
- Be aware that children are exposed to advertising and marketing messages and discuss it with them.
- Avoid offering unhealthy foods as a reward in order not to put the emphasis on the pleasure to eat unhealthy foods.
Some tips to help your children to enjoy healthy foods:
- Don’t give up at the first hurdle! Repeated positive exposures in a warm context is an effective mechanism for children to learn to like a new food. It is worth trying up to 10 times before giving up. However, if a child hates a particular food, it is important to respect that: we all have some foods we just can’t face.
- Vary textures and recipes: Vary the textures, recipes and taste of your tests, it may help children like healthy foods. Make sure healthy food you serve is always tasty and enjoyable: don’t expect children eat something you will not eat yourself!
- Healthy food on happy occasions: Put healthy foods at the center of happy occasions like a birthday party. For instance, offer a fruit cake for the birthday party of your child.
- Make it appealing: Healthy foods should be good to look at, to think about and to eat so that children will want to eat them.
Healthy & tasty recipes with yogurt for children and parents
Yogurt could be a valuable way to introduce healthy eating habits in children and to increase their pleasure to eat healthy foods. Several studies have shown that children who often eat yogurt have better eating habits.
You can make a tasty & healthy breakfast bowl by using yogurt as a nutrient-dense base and adding other healthy foods such as fruits, nuts or wholegrain cereals.
We have made a selection of healthy & tasty recipes with yogurt that kids and parents will love:
- Indian-style cucumber salad
- Smoky salmon tacos with Greek yogurt
- Zucchini Kohlrabi carrot fritters and herb yogurt sauce
- Spinach fettuccine with yogurt-cream sauce
- Greek yogurt panna cotta with strawberry-rhubarb sauce
- Passion fruit panna cotta
- Fruit salad with yogurt honey-lime dressing
Making children eat healthy foods involve making children enjoy eating healthy foods. Putting pleasure on the table could be an effective way to build healthy habits in children by overcoming the false opposition between nutrition and pleasure.
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