Following a specific parenting style can have an impact on how your kids grow up, but did you know it can also affect how they eat? According to recent research, different parental feeding styles can determine if your kids will have a healthy relationship with food as they grow up. Allow us to explain.

Just like parenting, feeding kids can be broken down into four different styles: authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative. According to experts, the first three styles can negatively impact a child’s emotional and physical health. However, an authoritative style can help kids develop healthy eating habits—and here’s how.

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With an authoritarian style, parents control exactly what kids eat without any input from kids on their choices. This style can make it difficult for kids to learn how to self-regulate and listen to their body’s cues that they’ve had enough. “In a vacuum, ‘take two more bites’ doesn’t look horrible … but over time, that message can influence a child’s ability to honor and recognize their own hunger and fullness cues and listen to their own bodies,” Jill Castle, a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert and mother of four told TIME. “If you are full, you are full, and beyond fullness is overeating.”

A permissive style means that parents indulge a kid’s every wish, even if that means cookies for breakfast. It can also involve using food as reward. For example, promising ice cream for eating Brussel sprouts. In both cases kids may develop a habit of overindulgence of unhealthy foods and learn that junk food is valued higher than healthy choices.

Uninvolved is essentially another word for neglectful, when kids aren’t routinely offered food and develop anxiety over when they will eat. “When a child is not sure when food will be served or can’t get enough of a food or a type of food, they can become a bit more focused on food and exhibit behaviors that lead to overeating,” Castle said.

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An authoritative style, on the other hand, offers the most balanced approach to developing eating habits. With this style parents offer limits and structure, but kids also have a say in their preferences. Castle explained, “A parent says, ‘do you want green beans or broccoli for dinner?’ The parent is still in control of the choices, so it’s a reasonable choice.”

Research shows that an authoritative parenting style when it comes to food and life in general, leads to lower body map index. “Families with an authoritative style have healthy-weight children, and their kids make better choices on their own, and they are more accepting of new foods,” explained Victoria Stein Feltman, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Apple to Zucchini, a healthy-eating resource for parents and families.

“When you take away the pressure, the kids become a bit more adventurous and have a better relationship with food,” she continued. “They’re not going to go the birthday party and have four cupcakes.”

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—Shahrzad Warkentin

 

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