You know that television can have a big influence on your children's eating habits and food preferences, but do you think that the picture books they read may also? Researchers are beginning to assess how much affect they may have. Kids often read the same book over and over again, so it's possible that messages may become deeply embedded. Reading a book with your child can lead to some thoughtful communication about the message. The potential for influences certainly seems possible.
Researchers recently looked at a large sample (114 books) of currently available best selling, story books for children. They wanted to see which foods were referenced most often. Seventy three percent of the books made at least one reference to food. Predictably, vegetables were seldom mentioned. The most often mentioned group was the grain group, followed by fats, sweets and then the fruit group.
Fats and sweets are located at the top of the food pyramid, in the smallest section, because they are foods that are supposed to be eaten 'sparingly.' One third of all the foods mentioned in the books came from this group, the most common ones being cake, cookies and ice cream. Foods that were associated with fun were more likely to be these foods.
Some seemingly good news is that positive messages about food were more frequent than negative ones. Obese characters were seldom featured and food was seldom seen being eaten to excess.
What influences these depictions have is not known. Will it make a difference that kids don't see vegetables eaten as often as other foods? Do cakes and cookies go with fun times? What if a character eating asparagus is called a 'nerd'? Subtle messages may still be heard loud and clear. What kind of influence it has may be partly up to you. When reading with your children, you can talk about the role of food in their life, about food choices being made and about the appropriateness of the food being eaten. You can even talk about the role of food as 'fun' !
A delightful children's book that may be able to spark your child's adventurous side with eating, and maybe even get him to try new food, is It's Disgusting and We Ate It!: True Food Facts from Around the World -- and Throughout History! Did you know that in some places in Texas you can get snake salad? Tales such as this one could make eating lima beans a little more appealing. Don't forget some of the classic children's stories involving food...Hansel and Gretel, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Green Eggs and Ham, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Happy Reading and Happy Eating!