Would this be the kind of conversation that might happen in your family? An eleven year old boy and his grandmother (primary caregiver) talk openly about how their family makes decisions about food:
Although this conversation actually did happen – the boy and his grandmother were part of a Penn State University study about how youth, their parents and grandparents discuss issues related to healthy eating – unfortunately, it was a rare conversation. Most of the other families in the study had far more difficulty implementing healthy eating practices in their households. Depite being quite knowledgeable about nutrition and health-related issues, members in some of these families communicated poorly with one another, and this compromised their ability to work together and make good decisions about food selection issues and family eating practices.
Some common intergenerational struggles relate to
Many families have picky eaters that are unwilling to try new foods. Other parents and grandparents may struggle with how much food constitutes the correct portion size. An exceptionally large “snack” after school may prevent someone from being hungry for the evening meal. Still, as families find themselves busier and busier trying to meet all the work, school, and social demands, finding a time to all sit down together may be difficult. When that time is 15-20 minutes versus 45-60 minutes, fast food is sometimes the meal of choice for the family on the run. Although some healthy options are more prevalent these days, fast doesn’t always equal healthy.
Sometimes the family communication problem takes the form of a lack of communication. For example, in an effort to meet some kind of social expectation for weight, a daughter or granddaughter may simply not want to talk about food or nutrition with her parents or other caregivers. In her mind, she may believe that the best way to lose weight if she feels overweight is to not eat – end of story. No communication happens and healthy choices and behaviors are difficult to infuse into the family system. Coercion is another ineffective method. Whereas the goal may be to teach or pass down good eating habits, children who are forced or intimidated into eating in certain ways often exhibit low levels of competence and confidence and are less likely to feel empowered to make meaningful contributions to decisions about food selection and preparation.
Fortunately, there are some new nutrition education programs that target entire families for training in how to communicate and work together more effectively to meet their healthful eating goals. FRIDGE and Family Fitness, both from Penn State University, are two such programs: