Only a handful of Australian toddlers have diets that meet national guidelines for junk food and vegetables, as the majority discover the allure of cakes, ice-cream and lollies far earlier than recommended.
A unique study using recruits from new parents groups in Melbourne has found that while most babies are eating enough fruit and vegetables at nine months, the standard of their diets declines rapidly soon after.
At 18 months, more than 95 per cent of children are not eating enough vegetables – in findings that indicate there is a widespread failure across the community to reach an ideal diet.
National recommendations suggest that children aged less than two years old should eat no discretionary foods regularly, including favourites such as sweet biscuits, pastries, confectionary and take-away pizza.
But in stark reality, more than 90 per cent of children aged nine months and 18 months are eating junk food regularly. And older pre-schoolers are eating far more than is recommended (no more than one serving or about one small piece of cake), according to research published this month in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The study, which involved 467 children between 2008 and 2015, is the first to compare the eating habits of very young children with the national guidelines.
With three children under eight, Eloise Litterbach is well aware of the challenges of getting toddlers to regularly eat enough vegetables.
“Some of these foods, they aren’t as palatable as the sweet stuff,” she said.
“So if you are in a hurry, or want something a bit clean and not so messy, it’s a bit easier to give them a biscuit or quick snack that they can hold and toddle around with.”
However, Ms Litterbach, a research assistant who lives in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges, says it is a challenge, but not insurmountable, especially if you come prepared.
Her trick is to sneak vegetables into the entire day, instead of relying on dinner-time to deliver the recommended dose of healthy food to her children – aged one, five and seven.
“So many people think ‘dinner-time, better pump them full of veggies’,” she said.
“I think that’s where parents could do themselves a favour, by putting less pressure on dinner-time.”
Lead author of the study, Dr Alison Spence, from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, said children who ate more junk foods when they were babies tended to eat more of those foods as they got older.
She said being a positive role model was an important way parents could get their children to eat better, including by not treating vegetables as a chore and preparing them in a tasty way.
“The amount of copying children do of all their parents’ behaviour is astounding and so you can imagine if a parent is eating junk food in front of their child, it’s no surprise the child wants the same things,” Dr Spence said.
Original article by The Sydney Morning Herald