According to a 2014 study appearing in Eating Behavior, British grandparents reported using significantly more maladaptive feeding practices with their grandchildren, such as using food to regulate emotions, pacifying with food, rewarding behavior with food, and restricting food intake.
But they also found that grandparents demonstrated more positive practices, such as providing a healthy environment for their grandchildren. And, the more hours they spent taking care of their grandchildren, the more their feeding practices became similar to the parents’ feeding practices.
The study concluded that grandparents had a measurable impact on child feeding behavior, which in turn was likely to predict the eating behaviors of their grandchildren.
Another 2006 study in Appetite looked at three-generation Chinese families and the grandparents’ feeding practices and beliefs about their grandchildren’s eating. The study authors found the following:
1. Chinese grandparents played an important role in planning and cooking family meals; their attitudes influenced young children’s nutrition and eating habits.
2. Chinese grandparents held the belief that children being heavy at a young age would assure that they had a good nutritional status and would become tall in the future. They showed a tendency towards urging the children to eat more meals and larger portions at served meals.
3. Grandparents used food as an educational and emotional tool.
The authors noted that Chinese grandparents in third-generation homes were dominant in shaping their grandchildren’s eating behavior.
How to keep it grand
Since grandparents appear to have great influence on how well and what young children eat, it makes sense to share your family feeding philosophy with them. Only you know how best to discuss this with your respective grandparents!
However, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Have a non-threatening, matter-of-fact conversation about nutrition: share your hopes, desires, and the habits you’re trying to establish with your children. Keep it a broad ideal, and convey you’re on a journey — all the small steps along the way count toward the end result — toward raising a child who has a healthy relationship with food. Do not make the conversation a personal confrontation. Open and non-judgmental conversations can go a long way in shaping a healthy and positive interaction with grandparents.
2. Use objective resources to back up your nutrition approach. This makes the dialogue less personal, more informative, and can end up being a support to both grandparents and you, as parents.
3. Be sensitive to, and tolerant of, allowing grandparents to indulge their grandchildren a little bit more frequently than you do (this is partly the joy of being a grandparent).
4. While some grandparents may want to do nutrition their own way, or may feel sensitive or criticized, in the end, I believe all grandparents want the best for their grandchildren.
If you feel your child’s nutrition is suffering at the hands of the grandparents, it’s time to have a conversation about it. But make sure you’re not overreacting or being too strict – you want grandparents to be part of your nutrition team!
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- Grandparents may have great influence over their grandchildren’s food preferences and eating habits.
- Grandparents may use food to control a child’s emotions and behavior.
- Grandparents’ attitudes about food and nutrition influence their grandchildren’s feeding.