Parent perspectives: How are parents providing healthy diets for their children?


A recent nationally representative survey revealed what types of meals parents believe are healthy for their children, and how much food is the healthy amount.

How healthy do parents think their children's diets are? | Image Credit: © Seventyfour- © Seventyfour -

How healthy do parents think their children's diets are? | Image Credit: © Seventyfour- © Seventyfour -

A nationally representative household survey published by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital provided information on how parents provide a healthy diet for their children.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health asked a national sample of parents of children aged 3 to 10 years about diet and food choices they make on behalf of their child.

The survey was administered in February of 2024 to 2057 parents of at least 1 child aged 0 to 18 years living in their household, with a 61% completion rate.

Overall, 32% of parents believe the standard American diet is healthy for children, while 47% of parents stated a Mediterranean diet is healthy, 31% said a vegetarian diet is healthy, 22% agreed a plant-based or vegan diet is healthy, and 13% of parents said a keto/low-carb diet is a healthy one for children.

A majority of parents stated they try to limit certain food from their child's diet while meal prepping or grocery shopping, including foods with added sugars (59%), processed foods (54%), fat (17%), or meat (8%).

Almost all parents (94%) reported trying at least 1 strategy to get their child to eat vegetables consistently. Fifty-four percent of parents serve vegetables each day, 53% present vegetables the way their child prefers, 41% incorporate new vegetables the child has yet to try, 41% let the child pick out vegetables at the store, and 25% allow their child to help prepare the vegetables. Nineteen percent of parents stated they offer a reward for finishing vegetables.

When it comes to proportions, most parents (69%) give their child "slightly less" than the adults in the family. Just 23% of parents polled allow their child to choose how much food to take at meal time. Five percent use the predetermined portions from packaging, and 3% give their child the same portion as adults.

Over half of parents (54%) reported that the child must try some of everything on the plate, while 31% reported there is no dessert if dinner isn't finished. Fifteen percent of parents said their family rule is "you have to finish what's on your plate."

What about going back for more? Most parents (71%), stated they allow their child to have a second helping, though 21% said only if the child finished everything on their original plate first.

Overall, if the child doesn't like what the family is having, 61% of parents said they would make something different for the child. With this, 51% of parents reported that their child being a picky eater is the biggest challenge in making sure the child receives a healthy diet. Cost of healthy foods is the reason for 31% of parents, while 27% said the biggest difficulty is their child not liking healthy food.

According to the poll, many parents are not making good choices while shopping, leaving the child with fewer healthy options overall, for meals and snacks.

"Some parents may be unaware of the extent to which certain foods can negatively impact their child’s long-term health, such as the link between “ultra-processed” foods and an increased risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease," the authors of the poll wrote.


Balancing act: Providing a healthy diet for children. C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. April 22, 2024. Accessed May 1, 2024.

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