Among the many lessons kids need to learn in order to eat right are two important ones:
- Liking something (or even, really, really liking something) is not a good enough reason to eat it all the time.
- There are lots of good tasting flavors out there. Not just sweet and salty.
I bring this up now because a new study just came out that “discovered” some obvious findings:
- Children enjoy sweet and salty flavors.
- Children tend to enjoy sweeter and saltier flavors than do adults.
This study also reported a less obvious finding:
- People who prefer intensely sweet foods also prefer intensely salty foods.
- This goes for children and for adults.
In other words, the idea that you’re either a sweet or a salty snacker might just be a myth.
- Read the study: Preferences for Salty and Sweet Tastes are Elevated and Related to Each Other during Childhood.
- Other studies have found a connection between sugar and salt. Read Crackers & Juice, Chips & Soda.
It’s tempting to think that if it’s natural for children to enjoy very sweet and very salty foods, there’s nothing you can do except wait it out. After all, over time, these preferences do change (usually).
Waiting it out is a mistake.
Understanding your children from a developmental perspective is not the same thing as knowing how to parent your children through their developmental phases.
- Most “child-friendly” foods are very high in sugar, salt and fat. Read The Truth About “Child-Friendly” Foods.
- Feeding to your children’s taste preferences only reinforces them.
- The more your children get used to eating these “flavor hit” foods, the less likely they are to enjoy fruits and vegetables. Read My Toddler Used to Eat Vegetables.
In other words, feeding to your children’s taste preferences makes their eating habits horrible and makes your life…hell.
This is important stuff. According to this study:
- Over 90% of American children 2-8 years of age are getting more than half of their discretionary calorie allowance from added sugars. For more on discretionary calories, read When Calories Don’t Count.
- Sodium intake is approximately 3200mg per day, well above the recommended level of 1,200-1,500mg per day for children 4-13.
The researchers conclude:
“Because children naturally prefer higher levels of sweet and salty tastes than do adults, they are vulnerable to the modern diet, which differs from the diet of our past, when salt and sugars were once rare and expensive commodities.”
The researchers go on to say:
“Having children eat diets low in sodium and added sugars requires a social, political, and economic food environment that supports and promotes this behavior change.”
And, I would add:
Parents can teach their children a style of eating that takes taste preferences into account, but which isn’t dominated by preferred foods.
It’s all in the lessons….
Which brings us right back to the beginning. Teach your kids:
- Liking something (or even, really, really liking something) is not a good enough reason to eat it.
- There are lots of good tasting flavors out there.
I discuss all these ideas in It’s Not About the Broccoli.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~