Parents need to consider:
- The types of foods that they have available at home
- Their attitude towards foods and snacks e.g. are certain foods used as rewards, unhealthy do children have unregulated access to high fat/high sugar snacks?
- The structure of mealtimes at home e.g. does the family sit down to eat together?
- The lifestyle choices that they themselves make and the example they provide to their child
- How they can best encourage their child to make positive changes to their eating habits without allowing food to become a contentious issue
For many parents there is a real fear of how their relationship with their child will be affected by enforcing new practices with food. Habits are difficult to break, but not impossible to change, and parents should be encouraged to make very gradual but definite changes over a period of time. Changes should be positively enforced and children should be praised for their efforts to adjust their behaviour with food. Providing the child with a choice regarding the changes they wish to make and allowing them to come up with their own solutions will help them to accept responsibility and may make changes more successful in the long term.
To help identify what changes will be most appropriate, children and their parents should be encouraged to keep a record of eating habits. This could take many different forms and, for example, may initially be a record of how many times crisps, fizzy drinks or other target foods are eaten in a day or a week. Goals could be set to reduce the number of occasions on which certain foods are eaten and equally to increase the number of times other types of foods are eaten. Getting children to experiment with new tastes will expand their range of choices, especially if alternatives to high fat and high sugar snacks are being sought.
Fad or restrictive diets are not appropriate for children and every effort should be made to ensure that the diet is nutritionally balanced. Childhood and adolescence is an important time of growth and development, and the dietary choices made should reflect this.