UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Catherine Shehan, a graduate student in Penn State's Department of Food Science, will present her research on the ways parents influence children’s eating behaviors, at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior on Aug. 2 in Seattle, Wash.
The study, titled "Parents’ reported food preparation time is inversely associated with energy density of children’s ad libitum laboratory meals," addresses how the amount of time parents spend on food preparation at home influences children’s food intake decisions made in the laboratory without parental supervision.
The main findings showed that children whose parents reported more time spent on food preparation at home independently chose to eat meals that were lower in energy density (a measure of calories per gram) than children whose parents reported less food preparation time. In other words, the children whose parents reported more time on food preparation tended to make healthier food choices in the lab than children whose parents spent less time at home on food preparation, even without parental supervision.
“In general, research shows that children tend to eat inadequate amounts of nutrient-rich foods while eating large amounts of sugary and fatty foods,” Shehan said. “It’s encouraging to see that parents can possibly affect the quality of their children’s food choices outside the home by spending more time cooking.”
This research suggests parental home food preparation may influence children’s food intake patterns, even when children are eating outside the home. Future research studies are needed to see whether encouraging increased amounts of home food preparation or teaching parents food preparation skills will improve children’s eating habits.
“Even after controlling for family income and whether or not children had a parent at home full time, we found that children whose parents spend more time cooking make better choices,” Shehan added. “Our food preferences develop early in life, so getting children to eat healthy foods can help them stay healthy in the long run.”
The study, conducted through Penn State’s Department of Food Science and Department of Nutritional Sciences, involved 61 children between ages 4 and 6 and their parents. Each family in the study participated in two laboratory visits, where children tasted and rated their liking of a variety of foods and were then given unlimited access to these foods without adult instruction or interference. Children were allowed to eat as much or as little of any of the foods presented, which included highly energy-dense foods such as chicken nuggets and chocolate chip cookies, as well as lower calorie foods such as grapes and broccoli. Meanwhile, parents completed questionnaires addressing various topics including their home food environment, their child’s food preferences and habits, and their family’s socioeconomic status.
Shehan worked with coauthors Terri Cravener and Haley Schlechter under the supervision of Kathleen Keller, assistant professor of nutritional sciences and food science, and John E. Hayes, assistant professor of food science and director of the Sensory Evaluation Center. For more information visit nutrition.hhdev.psu.edu/childrens-eating-lab or http://foodscience.psu.edu/facilities/sensory.
The SSIB is a non-profit organization committed to advancing scientific research on food and fluid intake and its associated biological, psychological and social processes. For more information visit www.ssib.org.