Toddlers Pick Up On Social Cues About Food Flickr / Donnie Ray Jones
Eating Your Words

How You Influence What Your Kid Will Or Won’t Eat

When it comes to instilling healthy eating habits in your kid, “Do as I say, not as I do” will get you nowhere besides locked in the bathroom eating secret cheeseburgers. There’s plenty of research that confirms kids learn what to eat from watching their parents, and a new study says they’re specifically responding to social cues — despite their arguably antisocial tendencies in restaurants.

Researchers tested this suspected social system in a series of experiments that had toddlers watch actors communicating about food in movies. In one test, toddlers observed 2 actors a talking about food in a bowl. While they were relatively unresponsive when the actors discussed the bowl itself, the kids were visibly thrown when the actors disagreed about its contents. This indicated that toddlers were looking to make generalizations about the food, but not objects (and sort of explains why your kid doesn’t give a crap about keeping their dinner in a dish).

Another experiment had the tiny subjects watch 2 types of couples talk about food — one that gone along, and one that was, at best, pretty hangry. Toddlers were not phased when the already argumentative couple disagreed on food preferences, but when the friendlier pair disagreed on food, it confused them. Researchers took this a step further with bilingual babies and found that this response to food preferences was language specific, even if kids learned food was safe to eat in a different language. “Although infants may learn about edibility by watching people eat, knowing that a food is edible does not lead them to expect all people to like it,” the authors concluded.

In other words, your kid definitely learns what to eat from looking at you, but unfortunately they’re looking for a lot more information than what’s poison and what’s not. Once your baby gets to a certain age, it’s not going to be as simple as, “To boob, or not to boob?” They’re paying more attention to what you’re eating than you thought, so you might want to start paying attention to what you’re eating, too. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before they start sneaking cheeseburgers in the bathroom with you, and that’s definitely not a group activity.

[H/T] Ars Technica