This time of year, I see a lot of children and adolescents for their annual physicals – all part of the back-to-school rush.
These visits include a discussion of eating habits, for both overweight children and those in the normal range for body mass index. While much of the discussion involves what’s going on at home, I have noticed a pattern in many families: There’s often a discrepancy between eating habits at home and those when visiting grandparents. In some cases, grandparents exhibit the healthier eating habits, but others seem to enjoy spoiling their grandkids with unhealthy treats and snacks.
When grandparents help with caregiving, whether full time during the day or during short shifts, it’s important to make sure that everyone is on board with the same eating rules.
Grandparents can be a great help in boosting healthy nutritional habits for their grandkids. This starts by being a role model. If kids see their parents and grandparents making healthy choices and opting for well-balanced meals with healthy snacks, they are more likely to want to model the same behavior.
Having an after-school snack with your grandkids can be a great way to bond. These snacks should include more fruit, vegetables or healthy fats (nuts and yogurt), and less chocolate, candy or chips. You can even take your grandkids with you to the grocery store and let them help pick out some healthy groceries for the week. If you have a vegetable garden, let the kids help with weeding or gardening if they’re old enough.
Even if grandparents don’t want to spoil their grandkids with unhealthy snacks, they still might hesitate to say no, worrying about coming across as too strict or about interfering with the parents’ ability to set the rules. However, this can lead to bad habits. If parents don’t want their kids having pop or candy during the day, then the same rules should apply when visiting grandparents or other relatives.
If you are a parent worried about eating habits at the grandparents’ house, the first step is talking to grandma and grandpa and explaining your concerns. If grandparents have regular feeding responsibilities or are frequent caregivers, it’s best to review your nutritional practices at home, so that they can mirror them when caring for the kids. While they don’t have to cook the exact same foods you would, if you are trying to cut down on unhealthy foods and snacks, and you know that your kids are consuming too much at their grandparents’ house, it’s reasonable to discuss this so that everyone can be on the same page.
If visits to the grandparents are less frequent, it’s acceptable to allow occasional treats, as long as you explain to your kids that this is not going to be part of their regular habits. You can also plan for some cleaner eating habits before and /or after the visits to make up for the added sugar or fat in the diet.
Overall, by working together, grandparents and parents can help promote healthy eating habits for kids of all ages.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.