Friday, 31 July 2009

Peer pressure and food choices for young children.

By Julie,
Towards Sustainability

When my children were very little it was easy to control what foods they ate, after all I was in charge of putting it on their plates. But as they get older, and particularly, after starting grade school, they are becoming increasingly aware of the difference between what they eat, and what most of the other kids do.

I am lucky that my eldest daughter (aged seven) isn't particularly interested in what other kids are eating, but my extremely sweet-toothed five year old, on the other hand, started school this year and is intensely aware of the contents of everyone else's lunchbox and what they buy at the canteen! The inevitable pressure to let her eat or buy whatever everyone else is eating is relentless - I'm sure almost everyone who has had anything to do with kids knows what I am talking about :-)

We often talk at home about what are good food choices and we regularly make homemade versions of takeaway foods like pizzas and hamburgers. I am also fortunate that they love nuts, fruit and vegetables so I know that 99% of the time, they are heating healthy choices but it got so that if we were visiting friends or at a party, my girls would literally sit over a bowl of sweets or crisps, devouring them until they were gone! A tad embarrassing for me, shall we say ;-)

After some consideration - and the knowledge that for better or worse, we live within a circle of people with different eating styles to us - last year we introduced the concept of "treat day" at home. Simply, the girls take turns every Thursday in picking what they will have for afternoon tea after school/ preschool, which can be (within reason) anything they like.

I try to steer them (gently) in the direction of foods which aren't quite so bad - and I won't buy anything packed full of trans fats for example - but iced donuts are a perennial favourite LOL. Within these constraints, I also try to buy items which minimise packaging for example and I'll explain to the girls why a slightly different item may be a better choice. Sometimes the 'treat' for my older girls might be lunch order at the school canteen, where a white bread sandwich - like everyone elses - is a treat at the moment!

So far, this strategy has worked really well for us. I also have an 'out' when we are out and about and the girls start asking for a lollipop or packet of chips - it's not treat day! It doesn't stop all of the whining unfortunately, but they know I won't cave in, so it's not worth too much effort :-)

I know that as they get older, have more pocket money to spend and greater access to shops, it will inevitably be spent on 'junk' food, but I have my fingers crossed that this strategy might encourage them to consider saving their money for more worthwhile purchases.

What about you? Do you have a strategy which works well for your family to share with us?