New HCF survey reveals the 'mealtime' challenge for parents

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HCF has published a new survey that reveals the challenges and stress many parents face at mealtimes.

The survey commissioned by HCF sought the views and experiences of more than 2,500 parents with children aged under 18 living at home.

The results of the survey are being published to coincide with the start of the 2022 school year.

It found seven in ten (69 per cent) parents said they have a child who is a fussy eater. Of these, two in five (41 per cent) said they often have to prepare two or more additional meals at dinner time to accommodate fussy eaters.

More than half of parents (56 per cent) admit to bribing their children with screen time if they eat their main meal. The vast majority (96 per cent) admit their family eats takeaway food that they know is not healthy because it is fast and convenient.

“Our research found a staggering 77 per cent of parents find meal time difficult or stressful for their family, with almost half finding dinner the most stressful meal,” said HCF chief officer member health, Julie Andrews.

“At HCF we want parents to know that they’re not alone, and that there is help at hand.”

Ms Andrews said eligible HCF members have access to the 'Healthy Families for Life' program that is designed to encourage children to develop positive eating habits for growth and development.

“We know that setting kids up with strong nutritional foundations early in life can help reduce the risk of chronic conditions in their future,” she said.

“It’s also important we encourage parents to role model healthy eating behaviours themselves, to make sure everyone in the family is developing healthy habits to last a lifetime.”

Dietitian Dr Jane Watson from 'Healthy Families for Life' said it was important to acknowledge that feeding children can be challenging.

“Allow your child to get hungry between meals and snacks, then offer them the foods you’d like them to eat, alongside smaller portions of those they already eat,” said Dr Watson.

“Almost half of the parents surveyed said dinner was the most stressful meal, which is a catch-22: mealtimes are unlikely to go well when parents are stressed.”

Dr Watson suggests keeping it simple, being realistic, creating a pre-meal routine and planning ahead.

“When mealtimes become difficult and parents feel they need more support, it’s important that parents seek help,” said Dr Watson.

“Good support will give parents and carers strategies for calmer mealtimes, dealing with food refusal and supporting their children to establish lifelong eating patterns for healthy growth and development.”