What are grandparent pantries made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice? In fact, Flinders University food nutrition and dietetics experts have found that grandparent carers are generally switched on when it comes to understanding the pros and cons of special dietary treats when babysitting the grandkids.
With grandparents the leading informal childcare providers worldwide, caring for about one-quarter of children aged under 5 in Australia, the UK and USA, the study focused on perceptions that bad eating habits might be starting here.
“Unlike what you might expect, we found food treats are used judiciously by grandparents – even though we might expect them to be more indulgent than parents,” says PhD candidate Morgan Pankhurst.
“We surveyed grandparents who provide regular informal care of young children and found a positive influence on children’s diet behaviours.”
While food treats play an important role in grandparent-grandchild relationships, the research didn’t find excessive amounts of discretionary foods high in fat, sodium and sugar are served by grandparents.
The study interviewed grandparents who cared for toddlers or pre-schoolers for more than 10 hours per week recruited from community playgroups, libraries and churches.
While grandparents’ and parents’ food values varied, the grandparents in the study were aware of the importance of healthy choices in doling out special treats (discretionary and core food) to reward good behaviour, or as part of their time together.
“On balance, there wasn’t much difference between the dietary outcomes of the children cared for regularly by grandparents,” says co-author Louisa Matwiejczyk.
“This goes to show that grandparents avoid spoiling grandchildren with excessive amounts of discretionary foods because they are well versed in the risks of forming bad eating habits and tooth decay,” she says.
“We found the grandparents worked hard to be responsible, but also build good relations with their grandchildren with occasional treats.”
The latest study complements another Flinders investigation into full-time grandparent carers of pre-schoolers due for publication later this year.
The findings, ‘Treats are a tool of the trade: An exploration of food treats among grandparents who provide informal childcare’ (2019) by Morgan Pankhurst, Kaye Mehta, Louisa Matwiejczyk, Carly J Moores, Ivanka Prichard, Sandra Mortimer and Lucinda Bell, has been published in Public Health Nutrition (Cambridge Press). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980019000685