Why are low-income parents raising picky eaters?

A new study shows how low-income parents have no choice but to make unhealthy food choices for their kids

Families who have strictly tight budgets can’t really afford to throw out multiple servings of uneaten food. So, they tend to purchase food that they're certain their kids will actually eat.

According to research, kids need to be exposed to new foods up to eight to 15 times before they are able to accept it, let alone eat and eventually enjoy it.

Sadly, what kids are fond of eating are foods packed with little to no nutrients and high caloric content such as chicken nuggets and pizza.

The Journal of Social Science and Medicine recently published a study on the connection of picky eating habits in kids to the economic restraints of their parents.

The author of the study, Caitlin Daniel, a sociologist from Harvard, noted how many low-income families (who took part in the study), purchased foods they know their children will eat. Why? This minimizes the risk of food wastage.

This study may also enlighten many families as to why obesity rates are soaring more in low-income households when most assume that scarcity of food is an issue.

The fear of food wastage determines dietary choices

Daniel initially set out to study various food choices but she was surprised to find that fear of wasting food was the chief concern.

“When parents assess whether a food is affordable or unaffordable, they’re thinking about whether their kid will actually eat it,” she told The Star.

Though these parents know they’re making unhealthy choices, they find themselves left with no choice but to choose foods their kids will actually eat.

High-income families make healthier choices

Parents who don’t have to deal with economic constraints, however, were found to be more willing to try introducing nutritious foods to their kids.

This doesn’t mean that they encounter no objections from their kids. But they are more open to risking the food going to waste because their economic status allows them this freedom.

Health should not be a luxury

A healthy diet and lifestyle is not only an option for the privileged few.

Kids need to learn at an early age to have a “good relationship with food a sense of safety in it in order to want to eat it”, as Daniel puts it.

“Poor people get to have preferences, too,” she affirms. “Maybe you could argue that that’s a luxury they can’t afford, but because eating is such an act of letting the outside world into us, it shouldn’t be surprising that people wouldn’t have preferences if not totally pressed by starvation.”

Developing their palate outside the home

She believes it’s unreasonable to assume that parents would be willing to risk food choices just to develop their children’ s palate.

A more concrete way to accomplish this, Daniel believes, is for communities to prioritize shared food programs in schools, churches, and other extracurricular activities such as summer camps and sports clinics.

This gives the child the freedom to experiment and discover what they actually enjoy eating in a safe environment where they feel a sense of belongingness outside their home.

Experiencing the various healthy options not readily available in their homes will save their parents from having to waste food in the future.

Once they find a healthy food they actually like, the next time the family shops for groceries the children’s themselves can make healthier choices.

If you have any insights, questions or comments regarding the topic, please share them with us!