Children are easily influenced by the people around them. While they are at home, you can monitor what they eat, but once they start going to school, they start getting influenced by their peers. They start yearning for lunches like everyone else in their class, even if the options are unhealthy. And simply telling them that what you prepare is healthier might not be enough to make them eat it. Peer influence on food choices is quite easy to see. Your child may suddenly declare that he/she no longer likes a food that they once loved. Instead, they may demand something they’ve never eaten before.
Why does peer pressure affect food choices?
A number of studies have been conducted to understand the effect peer pressure has on eating habits. According to a review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating behaviour can be socially transmitted. People who are told that others are eating a particular food are more likely to choose the same for themselves. They are also more likely to eat more or less if they see other people doing so. Social pressure when dieting is also linked to social identity. Conforming to a particular style of eating is often a way for children and adults to reinforce their identity in a particular social setting. This influence continues even when the child is eating alone and away from the rest of the group.
How to deal with peer pressure and help children make healthy choices?
Unfortunately, peer pressure hardly ever makes children make healthy choices. So, if your child has started asking for more salty or fried snacks, fast food and noodles, it may be time for you to start inculcating better dietary habits in them. Here are a few tips.
- Enforce healthy eating habits at home gently
Teaching your child to make healthy dietary choices starts at home. Don’t give in to your child’s demands for unhealthy snacks. Instead, encourage him / her to eat healthy, homemade foods. Give your child filling meals so that he is less likely to want to snack in between meals.
- Include children in meal preparation
Children are more likely to want to eat something if they have played a part in preparing it. It is never too early to let your child help you in the kitchen. Very young children can start with something as simple as helping you wash vegetables and accompanying you on grocery shopping trips. As they grow older, you can give them other tasks such as mixing a salad, rolling out chapattis, etc. Let them see the food being made and packed for their lunches. This instils a sense of pride, which will help fight against peer pressure.
- Collaborate with other parents
Peer pressure can be good too. If a child is feeling the pressure to make unhealthy choices, one or many of their friends is probably following unhealthy eating practices. Your child’s friends’ parents may not have time to make lunch every morning and hence they might be bringing unhealthy snacks. So, get together with the other parents, to nip this in the bud. Promote healthy eating as a group activity to make it more appealing. You can start a weekly group tiffin regime to teach your child how to eat a balanced meal.
- Be a good role model
Children do as they see. If you have unhealthy eating habits, you cannot expect your child to eat healthy meals. Thus, it is essential for you to be a good role model. Follow a well-balanced diet and eat meals on time. If you work and have lunch in the office, let your child know that you too take a home-cooked lunch with you.
- Talk to your child about food
Telling children to do something just because you ‘said so’ typically has no effect. Children are inquisitive by nature and can learn better if they understand the reasoning behind what they are being told to do. So, talk to your child about healthy eating and explain how different ingredients and food groups impact them. Explain the effects of unhealthy eating habits and how it can harm them. Encourage them to talk about their food choices and their feelings. And don’t forget to praise them when they make healthy choices and good decisions.