Less ‘kid-friendly’ foods, more family foods, by Kelly Francis, Registered Dietitian

Less ‘kid-friendly’ foods, more family foods, by Kelly Francis, Registered Dietitian

The concept of ‘kid-friendly’ foods seems to have grown out of proportion. People are still quick to condemn sugary breakfast cereals for their high sugar content and clever marketing ploys aimed at children but the truth is that the ‘kid-friendly’ food market has expanded far beyond this one shopping aisle. In fact, it has even crept into the ‘health’ food product market.

In addition to this, the idea that children need special ‘kid-friendly’ meals has resulted in children eating different meals to their parents. Looking at any kids menu at a restaurant, it appears obvious that burgers, fries, macaroni cheese and chicken nuggets are deemed as the only ‘kid-friendly’ foods.

For the sake of convenience, ‘kid-friendly’ foods are often purchased in some sort of package with a long list of ingredients. While some convenience food products marketed for children are genuinely healthy in terms of their ingredients, they should only be used when convenience is genuinely required. Children should ideally eat more whole foods than not. And they should eat more meals together with their families than not. While this is not always practical, the goal should be for families to eat the same foods, even if not quite at the same time. This allows parents an easy opportunity to model healthy eating behaviour.  This in turn reduces food preparation time which ultimately reduces the requirement for convenience.

When feeding children, the goal should be two-fold. Meeting nutrient requirements is an obvious goal but the goal that should parallel this, is teaching children how to eat well through food provision and example.

To achieve an optimally nutritious diet, children should be eating more family foods than ‘kid-friendly’ treat or convenient snack foods. When it comes to what children eat, parents should be making food choices while children should simply be allowed to stop eating when they are full. Encouraging children to maintain the ability to self-regulate is an important part of helping children to establish a healthy relationship with food. Food choices made by parents should be as far as possible in line with the family food intake and should include wholegrains, vegetables and whole fruit on a daily basis.

Day to day ‘kid-friendly’ foods should not be synonymous with the kiddies menu at most restaurants or birthday parties. ‘Kid-friendly’ should not mean quick, easy and most importantly, the absence of colour. ‘Kid-friendly’ food should benefit children nutritionally. The ‘kid-friendly’ bit should come in the form of fun presentation, colourful plates and bowls, a picnic style setting or texture adjustments.

The more exposure children have to family foods, the more they will come to accept them and even enjoy them. Family eating also promotes quality time. Understandably some adjustments to the family may be required depending on the age of a child but there should ideally be compromise from both ends of the age scale. An example of this being, giving a child bigger afternoon snacks so that the child can wait for a later dinner and having an earlier than usual dinner on the part of the parents.

Making an assessment of the use of ‘kid-friendly’ foods is a good start to making necessary changes to avoid an over reliance on unnecessary ‘kid-friendly’ food products.

‘kid-friendly’ Food Do’s‘kid-friendly’ Food Don’ts
Cut food into bite size chunks
Include familiar vegetables with new onesAdjust spiciness of meals
Be mindful of portion size
Include children in menu planning
Encourage children to taste new foods
Grow vegetables with children
Serve whole fruits, cut up when necessary
Trying new foods repeatedly until acceptance is achieved
Allow children to see you preparing vegetables
Allow children to wash and chop vegetables
Present food in a fun way
Fried foods
Serving only crumbed meats
Frequent use of processed meats and cheeses
Using treat foods as snacksFeeling that children need treat foods
Not making vegetables because the children do not like themOnly serving pureed fruits or vegetables
Trying new foods only once
Avoiding always hiding vegetables, combine hidden and visible if necessary
Make non-nutritious meals or snacks on demand