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Water Can Change The Way Your Child Eats

Posted by admin Saturday, December 15, 2012

In a recent research paper, 75 children aged 3-5 were served vegetables with either a drink of water or sweetened drink. The children ate more vegetables when drinking the water than with the sugary drink.
A group of older teenagers aged 19-23 were asked to say how well water or a fizzy drink goes with pizza, chips and vegetables. They confirmed that when they’re drinking a fizzy drink they have no interest in combining it with vegetables and when they’re eating pizza and chips they don’t want water.
But why is this? We have a theory and it comes from food association. 
Food-and-drink combinations are developed preferences. If artificially-flavoured sweet drinks lead to an association with (and desire for) similarly salty, processed food, then you're almost priming your child for this by giving them sweet drinks with meals. If the drink on the table determines whether children and adults will eat their vegetables, then perhaps it is time to change that drink, and replace it with water.

Our taste preferences are heavily influenced by repeated exposure to particular foods and drinks. This begins from the moment you start to wean your child through exposure to meals served at home and by meal combinations offered by restaurants.

If your child gets used to drinking fizzy, sweet drinks, then you're also inadvertently developing their preference for processed-tasting sugars and flavours. Think about how different these flavours are to natural flavours; for example, processed sugar ismuch sweeter than the natural sugars found in fruit. Fruit doesn't even seem sweet if you've just had a chocolate, does it? It's nowhere near as satisfying, if you're used to that processed sugar flavour.

The extreme sweetness and strong flavours in fizzy drinks (and the saltiness of processed foods) can therefore make natural food seem less flavoursome. If your child gets used to drinking strongly-flavoured drinks with food, the artificial flavour may overwhelm the natural flavours of, for example, the vegetables in front of them. These may well then become less interesting, as the flavours are more subtle.

Sweet drinks can also contain extra empty calories and energy and we already know that many young children are obese. For example, smoothies contain much more fruit than a child (or an adult, for that matter!) would ever eat in one sitting. Even fruit juices and smoothies (often thought of as the healthy option) can therefore fill up your child and make them less hungry for the food in front of them, as well as providing much more energy and sugar that you'd like your child to consume.

As a nation, we're fighting obesity and many chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, which is often preventable and can start with eating too much sugar. So don't let your child develop a taste for having too much sugar when they're young, as taste preferences gained in childhood often persist throughout life.

Finally, drinking water is a habit that needs to be learned, and as many of us know as adults, we don't drink nearly enough water. Many adults are chronically dehydrated. Serving water with meals is therefore a great way of making sure your child gets into the habit of drinking water regularly.

So, here are the tips:


  • Always serve water with meals
  • Treat squash, smoothies, fizzy drinks and even juice as meals in their own right


Research Paper: Cornwell, T. B. and A. R. McAlister. 2012. “Contingent Choice: Exploring the Relationship Between Sweetened Beverages and Vegetable Consumption.” Appetite

image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
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