Do parents really care about healthy eating?

I don’t think parents do.  Actually, I do think parents do.  OK, what I’m trying to say is, it’s complicated.

I think parents are ambivalent about healthy eating because they have so many conflicting concerns. Research backs me up.

Conflicting concerns are most easily seen in cases of, what I call, Soccer Mom Syndrome (or SMS for short).

In a study designed to examine how parents feel about the food environment in youth sports, researchers recently found that while some parents are adamantly against unhealthy snacks and other parents aren’t terribly concerned about them…

  • Many parents rationalize unhealthy eating during sports because they think their children are essentially healthy, or because the kids “work it off.”  (This pits nutrition against current weight or health.)
  • Parents use snacks for rewards after sporting events because the children have “worked hard” or have won the game. (This pits nutrition against feeding the soul.)
  • Parents report being too “crunched for time” to prepare healthy snacks (or to avoid fast food restaurants for meals) on sporting event days. (This pits nutrition against time.)
  • Most parents say that unhealthy snacks are readily available in sports settings and that their kids want them. (This pits nutrition against happiness.)

SMS is widespread! This study canvassed parents of youth basketball players.  I’ve witnessed SMS in non-sporting environments too. 

At the risk of bringing up a sore subject—the NY Times article about Free-Range Parenting and puree pouches that I wrote a post about last week—one of the things I found most striking was the author’s justification for using puree pouches in his own home.  He writes:

ON one level, certainly, the pouch is irresistible. How much time have I spent trying to sell one of my children on a piece of Colby cheese? And while my wife and I aren’t particularly neurotic, we are not above hearing what I think is a fairly common refrain running through most parents’ heads: “My child hasn’t eaten in hours and will die on my watch!”

(For the record, I’m not totally against puree pouches.  Read my review of pouches here.)

FEAR of HUNGER is rampant amongst parents I know.

Parents have lots of other competing concerns too.  Read What’s Holding You Hostage.  And so the treatment for SMS isn’t simple.  It’s also why all those calls for parents to supply healthier snacks often go unheard (or at least they go unheeded).

If you suffer from Soccer Mom Syndrome the solution is to think LONG TERM.

Recognize the long term implications of the lessons  your kids are really learning—when parents prioritize current weight over long term eating habits, or when parents reward kids with food—and you’ll automatically be able to see the path you need to follow.

In other words, Think BIG  and then:

Remember, when you keep your eyes on the longterm “prize” you end up teaching your kids the habits they need for a lifetime of healthy eating.  When you don’t…well…all you have to do is look around to see what happens.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Thomas, M., T. F. Nelson, E. Harwood, and D. Neumark-Sztainer. 2012. “Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 44(4): 365-71.