Positive Pester Power

Pester power works – but it doesn’t always have to be negative.  Kids are pretty quick to pick up on messages about eating – including messages about healthy eating too.  Thanks to the smart and conscientious teachers at my daughters’ daycare centre, one of my oldest daughter’s first phrases was “sometimes food”.

She knows what “sometimes food” means, but is still young enough to think “sometime” could be “anytime”.  Like how about now?  “It’s sometime now Mummy!” 

But friends with slightly older children are telling me that their kids are getting quite dictatorial in the kitchen:
“I can’t eat any salt – it raises my [blood] pressure!”
“No fatty margarine for me – it will make me as round as a beach ball”
“Don’t put too much cream in the sauce – it will make my veins all lumpy”

These learnings may have a basis in the truth, but they tend to be quite negative; unhelpfully demonising individual foods without giving a viable alternative.  Focusing on positive messages around food groups and the whole diet is probably a better way to teach children about nutrition. 
What about these ideas for kids:
         Get them to count up how many colours of fruits and vegetables they ate that day
         Let them help prepare the vegetables for the family dinner and sandwiches for the lunchbox
         Explain how wholegrain toast or porridge helps to keep them going until morning tea
         Do they know how fruit and vegetables help to fight the germs that make them sick?
         Ask how milk, cheese and yoghurt feed their bones to keep them strong
         How do meat and fish feed their brains and keep them smart?
         Teach what walking, running and jumping does for their heart

Feeding Our Futures research shows that while sweet and packaged foods remain popular with children, they also enjoy a wide range of foods.  To quote: “some of them liked vegetables.” So children know what they like, and they know what’s good for them, and in many cases these are not mutually exclusive. Campaigns like Feeding our Futures are hitting these positive messages home nicely.

When people feel deprived of choice however, things can start to backfire.  It’s been interesting to see how schools have been reacting to the Food and Beverages Guidelines for Schools scheme, which formally took effect in June this year.  This scheme gives guidelines to school canteen operators for “everyday”, “occasional” and “sometimes” foods.  While proponents of the scheme emphasise that there are no ‘forbidden’ foods, there are clearly some issues with canteens supplying certain foods just once a fortnight or once a term. 

Some schools embraced the healthy eating principles long ago, and unsurprisingly they are finding the system easy to work within.  Others less so it seems, the unintended consequences of school kids voting with their feet…all the way to the corner dairy, and school canteen operators going out of business.

It is unlikely that school children will ever line up with their lunch money and fight over the last celery stick – the only way to achieve this would be to ban celery sticks.  A better option would surely be to let children eat a wide variety of foods, and teach them more about the value of celery in the diet so that they start pestering their parents to buy it.

Categories: Nutrition and Health