According to a study by professor Mildred Horodynski of Michigan State University’s College of Nursing, a mother’s eating habits has a huge impact on whether her child consumes enough fruits and vegetables.
The study was published in the journal Public Health Nursing, and evaluated nearly 400 low-income women with children ages 1-3 enrolled in Early Head Start programs.
The research results indicated toddlers were less likely to consume fruits and vegetables four or more times a week if their mothers did not consume that amount or if their mothers viewed their children as picky eaters.
“What and how mothers eat is the most direct influence on what toddlers eat,” Horodynski said. “Health professionals need to consider this when developing strategies to increase a child’s consumption of healthy foods. Diets low in fruit and vegetables even at young ages pose increased risks for chronic diseases later in life.”
When mothers viewed their children as finicky eaters, and assumed they are unwilling to try foods they’re not familiar with, there was a reduction seen in the amount of fruits and vegetables a child consumed.
“Perceptions of a toddler as a picky eater may be related to parenting style or culture,” Horodynski said. “Mothers who viewed their children as picky eaters may be more lax in encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables.”
Horodynski claims previous research revealed early repeated exposure to different types of foods is required — up to 15 exposures may be needed before it can be determined if a child likes or dislikes a food.
“Special attention must be given to family-based approaches to incorporating fruits and vegetables into daily eating habits,” Horodynski said. “Efforts to increase mothers’ fruit and vegetable intake would result in more positive role modeling.”
As children grow, a mother may inadvertently transfer her food bias to her children by not exposing them to foods she normally avoids herself.
But if a mother is made to be aware of this discrimination process, she may be more inclined to offer her children food choices she normally would have dismissed based on her own personal likes and dislikes.
Additionally, Horodynski stressed that public health nurses and other health professionals must play an important role in enhancing mothers’ awareness of the importance of health eating. “Mother needs to have the knowledge and confidence to make these healthy decisions for their children,” she said.