Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
New Study: Food for thought when caring for grandchildren


The important role grandparents play in shaping their grandchildren’s eating is the subject of a new study by Flinders University researchers.

Nutrition and Dietetics researcher Dr Lucinda Bell recently received a seeding grant from Flinders Foundation to establish a program to provide grandparents with better support when caring for young children.

Dr Bell says more parents are returning to work earlier, and for longer hours, resulting in an increase in the amount of childcare provided by grandparents.

“Grandparents are an amazing and essential support for parents in the modern era,” Dr Bell says.

“They bring love to the care relationship with their grandchildren and play a valuable role in a child’s development in the early years, which is an important time for establishing healthy food preferences.”

Dr Bell says her team’s recent work in the area found that there were often generational differences in values and practices around nutrition.

“Grandparents often obey parent rules for healthy foods but occasionally treat children with sugary or fatty foods,” she says.

Dr Bell says the aim of the next part of the study is to find ways to better support grandparents - including maintaining parent-grandparent relationships around parents’ food rules, as well as methods for managing mealtimes, fussy eating and food refusal.

“We’ve carried out programs with parents on establishing good eating behaviours in young children, with promising results,” Dr Bell says.

“There’s also been programs that support grandparents caring for children in regards to child behavior problems and activity, but not in the area of nutrition. So this is a very novel study in that regard.”

Judy Fernandez (pictured below with Emily) has cared for her two grandchildren Alex, 5, and Emily 3, one day a week, since they were about one year old.

She says the pair are good eaters and are offered healthy food choices, as well as occasional treats.

“I remember my son’s lunch box would have a packet of chips and a couple of sweet biscuits in it- but now there’s a lot more awareness of healthy eating, balanced diets and things like low-sugar foods,” Judy says.

“(Alex and Emily’s) parents are very conscious of healthy eating so I try and uphold that.

“But there’s also things like chicken nuggets which are special to nanna’s house and they don’t have them at home.”

Judy says extra support would be valuable for some grandparents.

“I only look after them one day a week and some other times to help out, but I know many grandparents who do this several days a week – that’s a lot of work and a lot of responsibility which would be hard.”

Flinders Foundation recently awarded $350,000 in seeding grants to 19 Flinders University projects to allow researchers to kick-start their work and make an incredible difference in the long term.

The Nutrition and Dietetics Department is looking for grandparents who care for a grandchild at least one day a week to be involved in a brief interview for the study. To participate contact Dr Lucinda Bell at lucy.bell@flinders.edu.au

To support researchers like Dr Lucinda Bell, donate to Flinders Foundation here or contact (08) 8204 5216.

Caption: Judy Fernandez (right) cares for her granddaughter Emily, 3, one day a week.

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