WARMRegards February 2019 Food Scarcity and Picky Eaters
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The early childhood years are crucial in establishing good eating patterns. It’s during these years that children either learn to make healthy, nutritious food choices or develop bad eating habits that will follow them well into adulthood. The eating habits they create in their youth can affect everything from their intelligence to their health as an adult.
According to Health and Social Services, another important reason for kids to eat healthy in their early childhood is that this is a time of rapid growth and development for them. Children need access to nutritious, enriching foods, like fruits and vegetables, to support this growth. Healthy eating is linked to better brain and muscle development in children.
The Scarcity of Healthy Food in Low-Income Areas
Unfortunately, as the Food Research and Action Center reports, children from low-income households are at a disadvantage due to the scarcity of fruits and vegetables available to them. Some barriers to accessing nutritious food options in low-income areas include:
- Lack of farmers’ markets or stores with fresh produce.
- Unavailability of vehicles to complete regular grocery shopping trips.
- The higher price of nutritious food items.
- Lower-quality produce being sold in low-income neighborhoods.
- A greater availability of fast-food restaurants.
It can be easy to assume that parents who don’t give their children healthy foods are bad parents, but it’s important to look more closely at the situation. Without good options for fresh, quality produce nearby, busy and/or low-income parents might be tempted to opt for unhealthy options or fast food just to feed their children. And if these parents don’t have the ability to get to a grocery store that sells healthy foods at an affordable price, they’ll have no other option.
You can help combat this food scarcity by ensuring your clients are aware of food packages, farmers’ markets, and food vouchers that will enable them to gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables at a lower cost. You can remind clients at their appointments or reach out to them using an outreach platform which will send notifications letting them know about these programs.
When Kids Become Picky Eaters
Children who don’t have access to healthy food options may develop an aversion to them as they get older and can become picky eaters with a taste for low-nutrition items and junk food. When the damage is already done, the best thing you can do is help your clients reach their picky eaters and find creative ways to introduce nutrition into their children’s diets.
WIC Works suggests a few things parents can do to cope with picky eaters.
- Give children ownership by allowing them to pick their fruits and veggies.
- Have children help make meals so they feel invested.
- Offer a choice — instead of telling them they’re having broccoli, ask if they’d prefer broccoli or cauliflower.
- Eat family meals together so mealtime becomes enjoyable.
- Prepare the same foods for the whole family so children get used to eating what everyone else is eating.
Children are creatures of habit and, if they’ve been given relatively unhealthy foods for most of their young lives, they won’t be adventurous eaters. ChooseMyPlate.gov, from the USDA, has some tips for introducing new foods.
- Have children try new foods in small portions and be patient as they try them out.
- Start with one new food at a time so children don’t feel overwhelmed.
- Try the new foods out first so the child can look to you as a role model.
- Provide new foods at the beginning of a meal, when the child is most hungry.
- Offer new foods several times — sometimes it just won’t take on the first try, but the child might develop a taste for it over time.
There are many sources available to help parents deal with a picky eater. You can help your clients by pointing them in the right direction and offering nutrition advice from specialists, when needed.
Here are some sources you can point your clients to:
Your website can include a section with advice and tips to get picky eaters to eat more. Here, you can provide a link to quick videos that busy moms can watch to get the information they need when it’s convenient for them
For moms who need a little extra help getting their children to eat healthy foods, be sure to provide counseling with nutrition experts. This counseling can be offered at your clinic or at a satellite office your clients can easily get to. However, as we’ve talked about in previous newsletters, some moms won’t be able to get to your clinics very often due to transportation or financial issues. This is where your smartphone app will come in handy. You can set up secure, encrypted chats with nutrition counselors so moms who are unable to make in-person visits can still get the one-on-one help they need.
Getting kids to eat healthy is a two-step process. First, parents need access to affordable, fresh produce without having to travel far to get it. Second, parents need easy, go-to strategies to get their kids interested in healthy food and combat any poor eating habits that may have already been established. As always, information is key — make sure your clients have access to information about getting fresh produce and getting their kids to eat that produce.
By Shela Ward
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