A new study published in Pediatrics was conducted using McDonald's menus. The research showed that when parents were provided with calorie information, they chose foods that were about 100 calories less per meal. The study surveyed 99 parents of 3-6 years. The researchers showed parents food items, half with calorie information and the other half without calorie information.
I personally think this gives mixed results. I am not trying to down play the importance of calorie information because I do believe that it will be helpful. I have written several blogs on this topic and even I, myself, have changed my menu choices when I saw the calories! So I do think menus should show the calories.
But my concern is that kids are learning from their parents, we are the role models. So if this study shows that parents continued to choose high calorie foods despite the fact they chose a lower calorie option for their child, I think that is a big red flag. Eventually when the child becomes more independent, they will probably choose food items similar to their parents' choices. AKA high calorie foods!
The child may also resent that they are given a "lower calorie option" while their parents are eating the higher calorie foods. This could make them want their parents' food choices even more.
So, my take away is simple. Changing a child's food choices and helping them form healthy habits starts with the family making a commitment to eat healthier. Changing habits as a family doesn't have to be this awful, depriving experience. Gradually changing choices and setting small goals is the best way to change habits. And finally, celebrating each small step towards a healthier lifestyle.
Here are more tips on how to work with kids to set goals and track changes, all in a fun and positive way.