Child Nutrition: It Takes A Village

By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN

January 25, 2021


"It is up to us to break generational curses. When they say, 'it runs in the family', you tell them, 'this is where it runs out' " - Tiny Buddha.


In this article:

  • Mummy, daddy and grandma

  • Your child is not responsible

  • One pot and done

  • Chicken or the egg?

  • How to get started

Mummy, daddy and grandma

The old adage, 'it takes a village' could not be truer, but it is often expressed when highlighting the social and moral support for the working parents.


Let's go one step beyond that.


Studies have shown that the education level of mothers, fathers and grandmothers greatly influences the child's nutritional intake and status (1).


Furthermore, parents involved with nutrition education programs are more likely to discuss food and nutrition topics with their families (2).


As a Public Health Nutritionist, I'd advocate that nutrition education at the community-level is essential to transcend generational barriers to adequate childhood and family nutrition.


Your Child Is Not Responsible

Unless the child works and purchases their food, groceries, and cooks for the home, please do not hold them responsible for their diet (sorry, not sorry).


What the adult eats, the child eats.


While this blog is not focused on weight loss, studies have shown when parents and children engage in similar nutrition-related behavior changes together, they experienced greater weight loss (3) - a testament to the impact the parent-child collaboration can have.


As the child's village, you determine what nutritional practices are commonplace at home.


One pot and done

Well, not literally (unless you're making pelau).


However, preparing the same meals for all members of the household signifies unity and support, while saving you time and energy.


Furthermore, it is an ideal opportunity to talk, demonstrate and teach the child about their cultural herbs and foods while building their nutritional foundation.


Chicken or the egg?

So, where do we get started? Should we roll out more childhood nutrition programs, target the parents, or make changes in nutrition policy?


Will the flow of information from the child-to-parent be well-received (children are teachers too), or will access to parents pose a challenge?


Ideally, educating both at the same time is best - the parent controls the nutrition environment and the child can hold them accountable (they're good at this!).

How to get started

You'd like to make some changes but you're not sure where to start. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Family history - Investigate your family history for recurring health conditions to determine your risk ("risk" does not mean you will get it). Don't be afraid to get a check-up.

  2. Be curious - Seek out opportunities to learn about nutrition topics related to the health conditions of interest/concern. YouTube, webinars and free health clinics are a great place to start.

  3. Involve the kids - Children can be eager for some (messy) fun in the kitchen. Let them assist with meals; they're more likely to try foods that they have prepared.

  4. Get professional help - Seek guidance as a family unit where each member can benefit and provide support for the other.


Takeaway

Mothers, fathers and grandmothers have the greatest influence on the child's nutrition, bringing to life the old adage, 'it takes a village'.


Cultural nutrition education for the family unit provides the basis for improved management of generational health and the nutritional status of the community.

Sources:

1 - Adult education and child nutrition: the role of family and community | Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (bmj.com)


2 - Comparison of family interaction patterns related to food and nutrition. - Abstract - Europe PMC


3 - Comparison of Family-Based Behavior Modification and Nutrition Education for Childhood Obesity1 | Journal of Pediatric Psychology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

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