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Recent poll sheds new light on nutrition battle with kids

Posted at 6:31 AM, May 21, 2024

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — In homes across America and across Michigan it can be a daily struggle to balance a nutritious diet for children with the everyday realities of busy schedules and food preferences.

Kids need a balanced diet to provide them with the energy and nutrition they need to develop. A recent national poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital sheds new light on the challenge of getting kids to eat and pitfalls to avoid

For young mother Meghan, getting her son, Jack, to eat can be hit or miss.

"What kind of eater is Jack?" I asked her.

"Well he has his moments," she responded.

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We caught up with them after a trip to the grocery store.

"Some days he eats a ton of food, which I absolutely love," Meghan said.

But other days, not so much. And getting Jack to eat vegetable other than broccoli is a real challenge.

"No other vegetables," Meghan said. "So I'm trying to diversify his veggie world, if you will."

94 percent of parents try to use some sort of strategy to get their kids ages 3-10 to eat vegetables. That’s according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

  • 59 percent say they serve vegetables every day.
  • 53 percent fixing vegetables how their child prefers.
  • 41 percent let their child pick out vegetables at the grocery store.
  • 25 percent hide vegetables in other foods.

That last strategy is one that Mott Poll co-director Dr. Susan Woolford says won't get kids to accept later in the long run. She offered a better strategy.
"You help them have a small amount, something they don't like with something else they do like, and you repeat that regularly," Woolford said. "Ultimately, they'll accept the vegetable and maybe even learn to like it."

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Other healthy diet hurdles? 51 percent of parents say their child is a picky eater. 32 percent say health food costs too much.

And ⅔ of parents say the American diet- high in sodium, processed foods, carbs and saturated fats -- is unhealthy. Many realize the Mediterranean diet is healthier.

"And about a third thought that vegetarian diets are healthy," Woolford said. "However, only about 9% of parents had actually tried giving their children either a vegetarian diet or a Mediterranean diet."

Fearing kids won’t eat the vegetables or that they won’t get all of the nutrients they need. A lot of parents find themselves playing short order cook, preparing separate options if their child doesn’t like the family meal. But often those options offer calories without the nutritional punch.

"What that does is fill the child up," Woolford said. "And so then when the next nutritious meal comes along, they're not hungry for that either."

Dr. Woolford says offer a balanced meal and let the child eat what they like. Hold back the snacks and at the next meal offer a range of healthy options. They’ll likely be more accepting at the meal.

Our food preferences are complex. And are forming before the baby takes their first breath, influenced in-utero by the food and nutrients the mom consumes during pregnancy.

"And if moms eat a healthy diet while they're breastfeeding, that will also impact the likelihood of the child accepting, fruits and vegetables later," Woolford said.

That range is true to Laverne and her 11-year-old son Jeremiah, whose favorite foods are salads and salmon.

"When I was, pregnant, I used to crave salads, and so I don't, I don't know how to explain it, but yeah," Laverne said.

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Many of us as children were told to clean our plates. But only 1 in 8 parents says that’s a rule in their home.

Dr. Woolford says families should scrap that rule because it encourages children to ignore their body’s cues that they are full.

She also says skip offering a reward for eating vegetables and other parts of a health balanced meal. It only encourages the kids to want to treat even more and dislike the food seen as an obstacle between them and what they really want.