In part one of this two-part series, I showcased a vlog where I had conversation with parents/guardians on child feeding practices. In this blog, I synthesize additional insights from my conversations with parents while including some information from evidence-based research.
The Convention on the Right of the Child is very clear on the fact that every child has the right to be fed nutritious food. All parents wish to ensure their child receives healthy, safe, and nutritious food. Unfortunately, many children are unable to access adequate food. We lose 2.7 million young lives annually due to undernutrition. Increases in food prices, breast-milk substitutes, lack of awareness, and mothers’ poor nutritional status continue to make inadequate child feeding a pressing issue.
Exclusive breastfeeding: The first food that a child receives (and should receive) is mother’s milk. The World Health Organisation has very clear guidelines that recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and gradual introduction to food thereafter. Yet only 44% of infants up to the age of 6 months were exclusively breast-fed from 2015 to 2020.
Food education: One thing that came across very strongly in conversation with parents was educating children about food. This ranged from including children in the cooking process, grocery trips, and food gardening to having conversations around food waste. It is important to include the topic of food in children’s activities. Parents also sought information and advice for themselves from paediatricians, books, and online resources to learn the do’s and don’ts of child feeding practices.
Dietary-diversity: Many parents were of the view that children are interested to try a variety of food and it is important to provide them with a diversity of food options, within their geographic reach and budget. This also included introducing potentially allergy-causing food products to children. According to one research study, introducing allergens in children’s diet can potentially reduce the chances of acquiring food allergies in the future.
Nutrition and aesthetics: Though the priority in selecting food to feed children is largely driven by foods’ nutritional value, the look, feel, and presentation of food equally matters. Many parents shared that their child was attracted to colourful food products and would try vegetables and fruits because of that.
Parents expressed many challenges they faced in feeding their children. These challenges ranged from personal to larger systemic issues.
Food promotions and packaging: Many parents who took their children grocery shopping complained about the wide availability of junk food options. Sometimes kids would throw tantrums demanding a certain junk food item.
Monetary: Healthy food is expensive. The more certifications a food product claims to have — such as organic, grass-fed, chemical-free — the higher its price. This makes it difficult for parents to purchase the healthiest and safest food options for their children.
Children are picky and unpredictable: Children just being introduced to food are unable to develop a set pattern. Sometimes they would like a food item, but the next day they may show disgust towards it. Hence, feeding children needs to be a co-led thing between the child and the parent. Parents cannot force upon a child what to eat, and children need to be exposed to different tastes and textures, especially for fruits and vegetables, so they grow comfortable consuming them.
Personal Energy: Feeding a child and deciding what to feed them is an energy-consuming task. It is often mothers who take on the role of preparing and serving meals in households. It gets very difficult for working mothers, especially, to provide home-cooked meals to their children all the time.
It takes a village to raise a child, and an entire food system to feed a child. It is important that food systems be child friendly. Parents should not have to think twice about purchasing fruits and vegetables for their children due to monetary and food safety concerns.
Similarly, with increasing numbers of mothers going into the workforce, and with increasing numbers of children going to day care, it is important to ensure that such caretaking places are bound by law to adhere to strict food regulations for children, and serve them with healthy food options.
Feeding a child is a basis for their interaction with food. Children grow up and develop their independent relationship with food. It is important that parents and guardians teach children cooking skills, make them aware of where food comes from, and not to waste it.