How to let your children choose their snack will help improve their eating habits

Parents, please take note. Giving in to your child's desire for an unhealthy snack can improve your own eating options, researchers say.

The study, published in the Appetite magazine, showed that parents and other adult caregivers, such as nannies, tended to make better eating decisions for themselves if they responded to the child's request for a particular snack, whether that snack was healthy or not.

It was a surprising finding that shows the psychological impacts of decision making, said study researcher Utku Akkoc of the University of Alberta in Canada.

Through a series of experiments and a field study, the researchers measured how powerful caregivers felt and what foods they consumed after making decisions in various settings, such as when they packed a gift that the child had asked for at a school lunch.

Caregivers who heard their children's preferences ate a smaller amount of unhealthy foods.

In one experiment, participants who accepted a child's snack request ate an average of 2.7 less unhealthy snacks and 1.9 more healthy snacks than those who imposed their own preferences on the child.

The researchers said the reason probably lies in how caregivers feel about their decision.

Our theory is that mothers who adapt to the child's preferences against their best judgment would end up feeling less powerful, compared to mothers who successfully impose their own food choices on their children, Akkoc said.

This happens because accommodation implies a passive and less stressful disposition to give in to the child. When people feel less powerful, they make more inhibited and healthy choices as a diet, Akkoc added.

The research also showed that caregivers were influenced in their personal choices if they ate together with their child, eating the same healthy or unhealthy food.

We think it is because people would feel hypocritical if they ate cake in front of a child made to eat fruit, Akkoc said.

According to the researchers, the findings offer a simple and effective recipe to address the problems of poor diet and obesity.

It shows some ways in which parents and other adults can increase their own healthy eating by having dinner with their children after making healthy choices for them, he said.