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Got Kids? Then You're Less Likely to Eat Healthy

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As the mother of two small children, I work hard to provide them with healthy, home-cooked meals. I like to make batches of food I know they enjoy and freeze it for those nights when I'm short on time or just don't feel like cooking dinner. Last night was one of those nights. I'll unfreeze a portion of food for them, but then my husband and I are usually on our own to find something to eat. My choice (because I was tired and didn't want to cook) was an apple with peanut butter. Not terrible, but a little short on calories and probably not the best choice for a well-rounded dinner.

Before having kids, I would have been much more likely to spend a few minutes making a dinner that included each of the food groups (I think mine was missing some dairy and whole grains). But there are nights when I consider it an accomplishment to feed my kids well, and just to get through the day without being hungry myself. Fortunately those days don't happen often, but I can see how parents would be less likely to eat healthy than people with no children. A recent British study found that households without children were healthier eaters.

The study, published in the European Review of Agricultural Economics, compared dietary habits of households with and without children over a 2-week period. Researchers found that (even after controlling for factors such as age and income level) "a childless household consumed about 4.4 pounds more fruit and vegetables per person. Having children in the house also reduced the demand for meat, and increased the consumption of dairy products, cereal and potatoes."

So why such a difference? I don't think most households are like mine, where I make sure my kids are still eating healthy even if I'm not. Parents are busy, kids are picky, and so it's easier just to go with what you know they are willing to eat. If I let them, my kids would eat noodles and rolls for every meal. They wouldn't voluntarily ask for an extra helping of meat or vegetables.

Households without children are also more likely to have time to plan meals, grocery shop and prepare the food. I know everyone (whether you have kids or not) is busy. But I have to choose meals that don't require a lot of prep time because my kids aren't going to occupy themselves for 45 minutes while I experiment with a new recipe. I need meals that are quick and easy. If I had quiet time after work or on the weekends to do everything it takes to make lots of healthy, homemade meals, it would be much easier. But I just don't have that luxury these days.

What do you think? Why do you think this study found a difference between the dietary habits of households with and without kids?

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Having a child has actually encouraged me to make better choices so as to be a good example for her. Report
I found this to be quite similar to what I've experienced. A little over two years ago, my boyfriend and his two children moved in with me. I work in public accounting (crazy hours most of the year), and was also studying for the CPA exam 4 to 5 hours a day. He is a full time student, and takes evening classes. In addition, when they moved in, the kids were VERY picky eaters... They wouldn't eat any vegetables, cried when you asked them to try any fruit other than an apple, and pretty much lived on ramen noodles, spaghettios and mac & cheese. For a while, it was easier just to cave to them, since I didn't have the time or energy to fight. This, in addition to a few other factors, caused me to gain 80 lbs. over a short period of time. I'm happy to say that two years later, the 5 year old will try almost anything at least once. The 8 year old is still a bit pickier, but has definitley broadened his horizons. It really makes eating healthy much easier when they are willing to eat (or at least try) a larger variety of foods! Report
I was just the opposite when my children were little. I always made sure they had a healthy meal with alot of variety. When they got older and I started working, it still didnt change much. As time went on and they started working was where we ran into trouble. With everyone working different hours and everyone tired and starving all the time, we started eating out more and not paying attention to our food groups, it didnt affect them but with me being older and hormones changing, I put on 40 pounds in 4 years. My children didnt gain anything. So now I am on a diet and they are forced to eat healthy again. I hope my lessons learned are also theirs. I know my 20 yr old daughter consciously makes better choices, but my son still has to be convinced. Report
I'm not sure I agree with the study. When I first saw the headline I thought it was because people were buying convenience foods for their kids and then eating the leftovers on their plates. I know personally I ate a lot of 'grilled cheese rinds' (the crust part) when my daughter was a toddler. I rarely made a different meal for my kids than for my husband and I unless we were having something that really didn't work with kids. There are always vegetables (raw & cooked) on the table and if they don't like the cooked ones, they can eat the raw ones. We have a sit down family supper as many nights per week as our schedule will allow and that makes a difference too. My problem is that even though my kids are now teenagers, I think I deserve a 'treat' after they go to bed. My favourite treat is chips and dip but I've stopped buying that and so now I'm forced to have fruit or vegetables. Many nights I find that I don't have a snack at all for that reason.
If you feed the kids healthy but not yourself, when your kids grow up they will feed their kids healthy, but not themselves. Report
It is challenging to find healthy food that kids will enjoy and eat in a sustainable way. Their tastes change, and it is not always easy... Report
I think too often us parents use the excuse of kids and work to justify our choices of poor nutrition. Everyone at some point is tired/busy/feeling a little lazy, but taking the time to cook is something good you can do for your family and something parents ought to do it to instill healthy eating in their children.
I work two jobs and am a graduate student, and myself or my husband cooks every night. Some meals are quick ( whole wheat mac and cheese with veggies) others are time consuming (chicken and potato soup with wilted watercress) but the point is my daughter sees my husband and I cooking and eating well. Even when my daughter was very young I cooked meals 5-6 nights a week (the others were left over nights). Children do not require constant attention and setting them down with a game/toy/video for 30 minutes so you can cook is good for everyone.
Your child(red) sees you cooking, everyone gets a healthy meal, and your child(ren) learns to entertain his/herself. The latter being an important lesson as well! Report
They must have been comparing childless couples and empty nesters to working couples with kids because I can vouch for the fact that unless we make a great effort to pay attention to nutrition, the eating habits of many of us childless single people are abysmal Report
I keep my 4 year old and 6 month old granddaughters when both parents are working. It is much harder for me to cook healthy on days I keep the girls. My granddaughter eats grapes, cashews, raisins, prunes, and cheese really well. She often eats bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and peaches well. She does not like citrus fruits. She usually refuses veggies unless they are off my plate -- so I am sure to put something healthy in a big enough serving for both of us on my plate. She'll eat fish and meat if it is cut in pea-sized pieces. It takes a long time to feed the baby and the preschooler gets bored while I'm doing it. Wish I could help her play independently more often. Perhaps I just spent too much time focused just on her when it was just the 2 of us.

I try to get the preschooler to help me cook. She loves to pour and stir. But she always wants the knives and things that are hot. They are just so many dangers in the kitchen it makes it difficult. Report
When I grew up - the family sat down and all ate the same dinner (I'm 52).
Raising my children - sadly - we didn't necessarily sit at the dinner table as they got older, but when they were young we did. I did feed us all the same thing and tried to make it as balanced as I could on our budget. It wasn't until they saw their father refuse to eat something I made that they would refuse.
Now I live alone - the kids are all grown up. But now I also have spark people.And my children are more than willing and at time anxious to try some of the new, healthier recipes I make. I batch cook myself and freeze lots - making a Lentil stew this weekend as a matter of fact. Report
I disagree with this. I find that with my kids we eat a much healthier. I try to include all the food groups and there is not much my kids won't eat. Report
Well, I'm not too keen on "studies" - they tend to have a slant of some sort, and there's always another one to refute what one says.

I think any household can eat well - it just takes planning and budgeting. I plan all our meals and shop once a week for groceries. We're on a tight budget, so I buy quick and easy meals, which may not be nutritionally perfect, but I also plan a fruit or veggie with every meal using what's in season, on sale or frozen/canned. That doesn't mean my family eats them, though! I try not to make an issue of it, and just keep offering healthy choices when/where the budget will allow. I think tastes change as you mature, and as long as I set a (mostly) decent example, they'll come around eventually.

Having kids in the house is expensive, and processed convienced foods are cheap, so it's understandable that families don't eat as well as they should. Especially in this rough economy. But we can all make an effort where we can, set a good example and hope for the best! Report
Having kids absolutely makes your life more hectic especially when they are in sports. But every year I get a little bit better at meal planning to make sure we have a sit down dinner at least a couple days a week. That's what I remember most when I was a little girl. Those days are just gone...everyone going in different directions at 100 miles an hour. I don't like it but it's the way the world is today. I don't buy pop and only healthy juices. Plus we drink a ton of water. My highschooler buys a bottled water every day instead of pop. I've always told them everything in moderation so eating junk is okay too but just in moderation. We do pretty good overall but it can be exhausting trying to get everyone to eat everything they should. I get up at 4:45 am every morning to pack everyone's lunches (including my hubbies) so I know we eat good stuff for lunch. What's rewarding is that my kids are both in high school now and are starting to make some good choices for themselves. Finally, all those years of telling them and they are actually doing it. I do believe if parents eat healthy then your kids will eventually want to eat healthy too. We are their most important mentors in this world. Again...everything in moderation and you'll be okay. Report
I'm completely opposite from the study. Before I had my DD I wasn't eating any where close to how healthy I eat now with my DD. I make far more food at home that is healthy and I'm learning along with my DD new veggies that we like to eat. I don't make my food "kid-friendly" because it's not necessary. After seeing Andrew Zimmerman and Anthony Bourdain, kids will eat anything (bugs anyone?) as long as you don't treat the sugary foods as something special and the regular food and well regular. Report
My kids won't eat fruits or veggies unless they're sliced diced and peeled, which can be time consuming. And they get bored of just one thing. Even strawberries they won't eat unless I've cut the tops off. Sure I can buy them pre-cut, but when its 4x the price just to have somebody else do it for you? I don't think so. So fruits and veggies are not always on hand for my kids. Baby carrots, is the one thing that we always have on hand, but the boy doesn't like carrots. He won't eat apples with the skins. Its a huge hassle.

I wish there was some initiative to make healthy foods cheaper, but sometimes, there's just not enough money in the budget for a bunch of precut fruits and chopped veggies. Report
I have had fresh fruit and veggies and yogurt in my house and had my teenagers say "There is nothing to eat!" because there are no chips left (I buy one family-sized bag of chips per week). My son eats a large jar of peanut butter each week (he is 14). He also goes through a large box of Cinnamon Life cereal each week. Luckily, he likes to eat his peanut butter with apples, not just on bread or toast. My husband will eat peanut butter on bananas. I just have to keep reminding them that there are healthy alternatives in the house besides chips! Report
I don't think it's possible to draw a conclusion here that having kids is the CAUSE of not eating as well, which is what you're implying.

It is quite possible that the people who choose who have children are merely more likely to also choose to eat a comparatively high-convenience and low-nutrient diet (which is a real shame if so, since they're probably the people with the greatest obligation to eat and provide the healthiest possible diet).

I don't think you're doing anyone any favors by helping to justify excuses people might use to tell themselves that it's okay that they're not striving to live a healthier life.

Also, as others have said, children can be taught to eat healthy food. Our species wouldn't have survived long enough to invent processed food if it were impossible to get kids to live on unprocessed food. Report
I think this study is pretty strange. I know that my husband and I ate WAY more dinners out before our son, and we know that restaurant food is packed with fat and calories for the most part. I provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for my son on week days, and then we might get pizza or easy meal on the weekends. I work out of the home 30+ hours a week. It does take some planning, but it is just as easy to buy healthy food and cook in batches then to buy junk food. I do it when I have some extra time on the weekends. As for fruit and veggies, is it that expensive, really? If you have a local produce market, you can get good deals. Report
ON some levels this is true at our house. We tend to eat more pizza and stuff on nights we have soccer practice and I work late as opposed to the off season of soccer. But the main reason we dont always eat as healthy as we should is cost. Fresh fruits can get very expensive. Report
I have had a different experience with my daughter. Growing up in a family where overeating is a generational stronghold, I want to do better for her. My problem has been making sure she eats veggies and healthy foods while I have been snacking on chips. I have started eating better just by eating what I give her. Report
Fatigue isn't the only reason that parents don't provide the healthiest meals. Price is a consideration. I have 4 kids so we aren't eating out at places like McDonald's that often. However, my kids have had their share, your share, and the neighbor's share of hot dogs and mac and cheese in their lifetime :-). Keeping items like fruit in the hosue can get pricey, especially since my kids will eat grapes so fast that they barely make it from the car to the fridge. For a while we stopped buying fruit altogether, then we started getting canned fruit. Now that they are teens, I've imposed limits like one apple per person per day. Report
I disagree. I am raising 3 kids right now ages 7,10, and 11. They all eat very healthy and love fruits and veggies because me and my husband eat them. We raise our children to try new things and teaching them to eat healthy because we are doing it too. They are learning by example. So I disagree with this because I am actually eating a whole lot heathier now than I did before I had kids. Report
I am a Mom of 4 and grandmother of 13 and I know it makes a difference because I complain about it.
First it is who will eat what, since my children are middle aged I just can't do an or else, I can't with their kids (10 to 23) because my kids have their own rules for their children and I have to respect that.
Secondly, I find that the cook has a tendency to make what the non-cooks like and will eat. We want them to eat healthy but we love the compliments and the joy of watching them eagerly eating.
Another reason is everybodys schedule, when we are all working, going to whatever, getting ready for tomorrow and just trying to get a few minutes of R & R, I really struggled to put quick healthy meals on the table that everyone would eat.
When I was younger and raising the 4 alone, what I would do is spend part of one weekend a month fixing dinner. Saturday I shopped, got all the deals, then planned the dinners. Sunday I prepared mostly the meats, Making double or triple the recipes, dividing it in Family size meals (so I would eat) to microwave it.
For instance, I would brown about 5 pounds of hamburger meat and freeze it. A sandwich bag is 4 servings, a quart size about 6. This sizing also works for any unboned meat like roast chicken or pot roast. Some individual sizes also. I also kept 2 covered bins in my fridge, fruit and veggies. Always squeezed orange on top of fruits and checked it every other day. Veggies were easy and made great salads or steam in microwave for veggie dish. Lettuce in lettuce keeper, tomatos seperate. It only took like 2 minutes every other day to keep these fresh and full. All I had to worry about were what used to be called starches. This way everyone ate healthy and when their schedule permitted, even if we couldn't always eat together.

I raised five children and I never had any problem with getting my children to eat healthy. All I had to do was put a SIGN on the food in the refrigerator "MOM'S DIET FOOD - DO NOT EAT" and they gobbled it down. I'd buy bananas and apples and put them "away" in the cabinet and tell them they were for my diet, and they'd eat them. Worked every time. Report
I would have to say, when my son was younger we ate way more healthy, he didn't have a choice as to what was for dinner, I cooked, we ate at the table and that was that! And I was 20 pounds lighter! Now that he is a teen, we are both more lazy about that and it's MY fault. I often ask him what he wants, which sometimes is healthy and sometimes is not. I have found some way around it though, such as making my own pizza on whole wheat crust instead of ordering one, or making nachos at home instead of hitting up the high calorie versions at home. Report
I have two kids and believe me, there are days when it just isn't in me to eat healthy. I may make sure my kids do, but most times I'm just to tired to care. Report
I agree with the blog. i have a 3 year old and a new one we're adopting in July and with all the baby prep and preschool registation and everything else it is had to make sure im giving my son all the fruit and veggies he needs when all he wants is mac n cheese and hotdogs and fruit snacks or chicken nuggets from the nearest resturant. it's deffinatly something i need to work on.
As for not being a parent. Things are different with every family and some kids wont eat unless u sneak. like putting corn or green beans in mac and cheese is not a sin but is a clever way my mother taught me to get me to eat my veggies when i was a kid. Report
I don't get parents these days (I am not a parent). When I was growing up, my mom worked and my dad was a cop and worked a 6-day rotating shift. Somehow, my sister and I ate square meals. My mom (or dad) was not too tired (lazy?) to cook. We did not run the kitchen like a restaurant, with every member eating different things at different times. We did our best to eat together (obviously, dad was absent sometimes). We all ate the same thing, and had plenty of vegetables and salad at every dinner.

My old boss would make smoothies for her son and "sneak" vegetables into it. We had to eat our vegetables or else. No coddling. No eating in front of the TV. Parents today don't seem to be able to put up with kids' tantrums and so the kids get what they want. My boss's son also would just get up from the table and leave, no clearing dishes. We always helped set the table, chop vegetables, clear, load the dishwasher, etc. As soon as I was old enough, say 12 or 13, I was often asked to cook the main course-- great learning experience, as I am a good cook now.

I know not everyone likes to cook, but it's really not that hard. Get the kids involved to save yourself from all the "work". And grow a pair and don't let the kids rule the menu. Report
I agree my kids eat better than my wife and I, but I think we do okay. Time is always the biggest constraint. Both girls have their likes and dislikes but do eat veggies, fruit and a good mix of everything else. Junk food is eaten in moderation by us all, but it is easy which is our big problem. Report
I am a SAH mom of two girls. I still have days that we eat junk meals because we have been busy running around but I must say my children eat ten times better than I do. They eat fruit more than anything else. My 2yr old snacks on carrots and grapes. Don't get me wrong they do eat junk snacks but they tend to gravitate to fruits more than anything. Sometimes I wish I could crave fruit like they do. Report
My experience has cycled both ways over the course of raising my 3 kids. Back before kids, I made poor food choices. With our fisrt child, working full time, he didn't eat as healthy as our second when I was a stay at home mom. Now with our third child, I've worked and stayed home and we were in the middle until recently. I feel blessed my kids aren't terribly picky eaters. My struggle is trying to healthify our diet on a very low budget. Why is it mac n cheese so much cheaper than fresh veggies? Ugh! Report
I'm a work away from home mother. Our dinners are generally well rounded and healthy, I feed my kids good breakfasts, and they have access to an outstanding school lunch program. For myself, on the other hand, breakfast and lunch are often catch-as-catch-can on the run. I seldom have time to actually eat lunch on my lunch break. I've been up for four hours and at work for one, and my breakfast is still in my purse. Shopping and preparation are not the issues for me. It's the sitting down to eat part that I have trouble with. Report
I disagree. Admittedly, I'm a stay at home mom and we only have 1 daughter, but we ALWAYS have fresh fruits and vegetables in the house and the meals have gotten decidedly healthier since becoming parents. I don't prepare separate meals for different members of the family. The 3 of us sit down for dinner every night and we all eat the same meal. My husband and I are "older" parents (I'm 45 and he's 43) so we think it's very important to be healthy now. Report
well i'm a mom of three
and yes money and time are so so tight
we buy fruit but we do have some junk dinners when mom is too too tired to cook
I agree with REJ7777. I buy more fruits and vegetable since becoming a mom because my daughter loves all fruits and snacks on them throughout the day. I also try to prepare healthier meals since she was born because I want her to have the healthiest start possible. But at 2 1/2 she eats earlier in the evening (she goes to sleep at 6:30pm) so she eats leftovers from our dinner the night before. That way, I cook (or finish cooking) dinner after she goes to bed. So we all eat the same healthy dinners (just on different nights). Report
I find it shocking and sad that a family with no children eats MORE fruits and vegetables per person than a family with no children! Report
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