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by Michelle Jongenelis, Senior Research Fellow at the Melbourne Centre for Behaviour Change


Boy eats watermelon with his grandma

It shouldn’t surprise you to know that grandparents are the most important source of childcare in Australia and around the world. With more parents wanting to go back to work and formal childcare becoming less affordable, families are increasingly relying upon grandparents to help out.

But when it comes to what kids eat, how important are grandparents really?

The answer? Very!

In a previous study, funded by Healthway and conducted by Curtin University in partnership with LiveLighter, Cancer Council WA and Cancer Council Victoria, we found that over 80% of grandparents feed their grandchildren meals or snacks several times per week. Our second study goes further to support the crucial role of grandparents in their grandchildren’s diets.

The grandparents surveyed largely fed their grandchildren in ways that promoted healthy eating but results suggest some grandparents might need a bit more support.

Some interesting things we found:

  • Grandparents who provided a healthy food environment (for example, they had healthy foods available in their home and during meal times and did their best to minimise the presence of unhealthy snack foods) had grandchildren who ate more fruit and vegetables and less unhealthy savoury snacks, sweet snacks, and sugary drinks.
  • Grandparents who set limits on how much unhealthy food they allowed their grandchildren to eat had grandchildren who ate less savoury snacks and consumed fewer sugary drinks.
  • The diet of grandparents was really important! Grandparents who reported eating junk food had grandkids who also ate more junk food. On a positive note, grandparents who ate more fruit and vegetables had grandkids who also ate more fruit and vegetables.
  • Grandparents who described their grandkids as “fussy eaters” reported that these grandkids ate less fruit and vegetables and more sweet snacks.
  • Grandparents who ‘gave in’ to their grandkids’ pestering for unhealthy food meant their grandkids ate more junk food and consumed more sugary drinks.
  • Males and those living in lower SES areas were more likely to feed their grandkids in ways that resulted in the grandkids eating less healthy foods.

Tips for grandparents:

  • Keep healthy food (especially healthy snacks) in your home.
  • Make sure fruit and vegetables are on display, easily accessible, and appealing! For example, keep the fruit bowl full and have colourful salad vegetables chopped up on a platter ready for when the grandkids come over.
  • Set limits on unhealthy food. You don’t have to restrict these foods altogether (in fact, this can make kids want them more!), just set clear rules about how much, how often, and when these foods can be eaten.
  • Make sure you’re eating healthily too!
  • Familiarity is really important – kids often need to try a food lots of times before they will accept it. Don’t give up! Food preferences can be changed and encouraging your grandkids to try something can help with food fussiness.
  • Try not to give in to pestering.
  • Become a champion of healthy eating!

More info:

  • For healthy snacks ideas for kids, visit the Crunch&Sip website
  • For delicious, easy and healthy recipes, check out the LiveLighter recipe page

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