When you shoot your kids from the cannon, what eating trajectory will they be on?

  • If your kids have the same eating habits as adults as they have today, will you think they have learned to eat right?  Or
  • Do you hope your kids change how they eat as they get older?

You know how Oprah talks about “Aha Moments?” Well here’s one to consider: I once asked a friend why she doled out carrots (or other veggies) with lunch every day. She said it was because she wanted to teach her kids the habit of daily vegetable-eating.  Why, I asked her, did she also give them chips every day?  I saw the lightbulb go off.

We start teaching lifetime habits in childhood. Your kids aren’t actually kids. They’re really future adults.

Of course, the job isn’t just about the future; we’ve got to take care of the little buggers today too.  But if you think about it, the parenting imperative is really to teach kids the stuff they’ll need to survive, if not actually thrive, when we launch them into the worlds on their own.

If you have been thinking that it doesn’t matter so much what your toddler eats because there’s time for improvement, I’ve got news for you: bad eating habits don’t get better. 

The news is grim. A recent study of 2-18 year olds found that close to 40% of the calories consumed by kids come from empty calories. In other words, our kids are consuming a lot of foods that have virtually no nutritional value.

Half of those empty calories come from just 6 foods:

  • Soda
  • Sugary Fruit Drinks
  • Grain desserts, such as cake, cookies and donuts
  • Dairy desserts, such as ice cream
  • Pizza
  • Whole milk

I  know it is hard to think of milk calories as empty. It is milk, after all.  But compared to skim, whole milk is loaded with fat (and not the good kind of fat either).  Read When Calories Don’t Count.  Also check out Coke Beats Juice.

If anything, eating habits get worse.

Look at how Whole Milk and Fruit Juice turn into Soda and Pizza as the top 2 sources of calories:

  • Children age 2-3 —  #1 Source=Whole Milk; #2 Source=100% Fruit Juice
  • Children age 4-8 —   #1 Source=Grain Desserts; #2 Source=Yeast Breads
  • Children age 9-13 — #1 Source=Grain Desserts; #2 Source=Pizza
  • Children age 14-18 — #1 Source=Soda; #2 Source=Pizza

The researchers also discovered…

  • 2-3 year olds get 13% of their calories from added sugars, and kids 4 and up get almost one fifth (18%) of their calories from added sugars.
  • 2-3 year olds get most of their fat from milk and meat, but 14-18 year olds get most of theirs from pizza and pie (and cookies, cakes and other grain desserts).

These habits carry on into adulthood.  Read Why Adults Eat Poorly.

The solution is simple: THINK BIG!

It’s hard to imagine that changing the way you think will change the way your kids eat, but it will.  Ask yourself what eating habits you want your children to have when they’re grown and then feed accordingly.

Kids who start out consuming empty calories, tend to stay the course.  After all, change is hard to achieve.

Read Think Big! Habits for a Lifetime.

It is easy to lose sight of the future when it comes to feeding kids because immediate nourishment is so important.

Plus, no one really expects kids to eat right.  (Even pediatricians frequently tell parents to wait it out.)

Taste preferences and food choices, though, are more nurture than nature. How else can we explain the simple truth that Indian kids like curry and American kids like chicken nuggets?

The foods your kids eat early in life have a long-term influence on their eating habits. Do your kids a favor: Feed them the way you hope they’ll eat when they’re grown… and save them from a future struggle. 

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Source: Reedy, J. and S. Krebs-Smith. 2010. “Dietary Sources of Energy, Solid Fats, and Added Sugars Among Children and Adolescents in the United States.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110(10): 1477-84.