Skip to content

Preschoolers Eat Healthy When Parents Set Rules About Food

Keep up the great work, parents! A new study out of the University of Buffalo suggests that preschoolers whose parents have set rules about what foods they can and cannot eat actually have healthier eating habits than those whose parents don't set such rules.

Though the biggest shocker here may be that your little troublemakers are actually listening, the research holds great potential for our understanding of self-regulation in children and how rules from parents work with this skill to set healthy habits. Emotional eating and self-regulation have been well studied in many other age groups, but we all know habits are set young (and die hard). Gauging children's ability to control these impulses could change the way we get kids hooked on the healthy, green stuff and the efficacy of those efforts.

The researchers tracked children's self-regulation at 2 years old and their food consumption—of fruit juice, soda, fast food, fresh fruits, fresh veggies, salty snack, and sweets—at 4 years old. The children with better self-regulation at 2 had healthy eating habits by 4 as long as parents had set rules about food. How did self-regulation without parental guidance stack up? It made no impact on the eating habits of the kids. So set those rules and stick to them!

The food kids consumed the most if their parents didn't set food rules? No surprise here: Soda. Children who lacked parental rules on foods drank a whopping 25 percent more of the syrup-laden beverage than kids with rules in place. So set those rules early, set them in stone, and your little ones stand a much better chance of developing healthy eating habits that will keep them happy for years to come.

Eat This, Not That!
Inspired by The New York Times best-selling book series, Eat This, Not That! is a brand that's comprised of an award-winning team of journalists and board-certified experts, doctors, nutritionists, chefs, personal trainers, and dietitians who work together to bring you accurate, timely, informative, and actionable content on food, nutrition, dieting, weight loss, health, wellness, and more. Read more about Eat This