• What happens when a child’s grandparents are the main source of childcare and, by default, they’re also the cooks responsible for their grandchild’s diet? (Digital Vision/Getty Images)Source: Digital Vision/Getty Images
How good are grandparents at giving grandkids nutritious food as they increasingly provide more childcare services?
By
Yasmin Noone

29 Jan 2019 - 2:49 PM  UPDATED 29 Jan 2019 - 3:23 PM

The love between an adoring grandchild and doting grandparent is so incredibly special.

It’s a unique intergenerational bond that extends across all religious and cultural divides, founded on a grandparent’s innate urge to cuddle, spoil and feed their adult child’s offspring until they declare ‘please: no more food’ in their native tongue.  

It doesn’t matter whether the grandparent in your child’s life sneaks their grandchild an extra serve of Australian-made scones, Italian cannolis, Chinese sticky rice cakes, South African puddings or Argentinean dulce de leche laced sweets – the delectable treats they offer are all true tokens of affection.

According to a 2016 study,  the indulgent feeding practices of grandparents are borne from a motivation to engage positively with grandchildren. Other research suggests that while some grandparents encourage their kids to eat healthy and teach them to cook, others use food as a reward or pressure children to eat more than they should.

Grandparents are now providing more childcare than ever before and are increasingly responsible for the diets of our growing children.

This food-fuelled love between grandchild and grandparent has remained a constant throughout the eras. But as social patterns of maternal employment and childcare are changing, grandparents are now doing more hours of childcare and are increasingly responsible for the diets of our growing children.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017 report shows that one fifth of children whose mothers work are usually cared for by a grandparent, while grandparents look after nearly one-third of children who have two working parents. Around 34 per cent of 0–12 year olds are cared for by grandparents for 10 or more hours per week.

So what happens when a child’s grandparents are the main source of childcare and, by default, they’re also the cooks responsible for their grandchild’s weekday diet and general health?

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A new study, published in a current online issue of the journal Appetite, has explored whether an increasing reliance on grandparents for childcare in Australia could impact grandparents’ food provision and affect child dietary intake and childhood obesity.

The researchers assessed over 1000 grandparents – 60 per cent female – who provide more than three hours of care every week to at least one grandchild aged three to 14 years old.

The study, conducted by Curtin University Cancer Council Victoria and Cancer Council Western Australia, found that over 80 per cent of grandparents feed their grandchildren snacks. 

“Nearly one-fifth of grandparents reported providing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks,” the study states. “The provision of main meals occurred one to three times a week and snack provision occurred two to six times a week.”

The research showed that all girls were given fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruit or 100 per cent fruit juice more frequently than boys.

Why the age and sex of grandparents and grandchildren matters

In general, most grandparents involved in the study provided their grandchildren with healthy food. However, older grandchildren were fed unhealthy food more often than the little ones.

“…Younger grandchildren were more frequently provided with milk, cheese, or yoghurt; grain and cereal foods; and dried fruit or 100 per cent fruit juice. They were less frequently provided with savoury snacks and sugary drinks”.

The study’s authors reason that grandparents are feeding older grandchildren more savoury snacks and sugary drinks because they are able to ask their elders for it.

“Evidence suggests that older children are more successful than younger children in their attempts at repeatedly requesting such foods from caregivers and repeated requests have been found to be an especially important factor associated with children's consumption of soft drinks and energy-dense nutrient-poor foods.”

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The research showed that all girls were given fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruit or 100 per cent fruit juice more frequently than boys.

It also found that grandmothers provided their grandchildren with fresh fruit and milk, cheese, or yoghurt more regularly than grandfathers. Meanwhile, grandfathers gave their grandkids more savoury snacks than their female counterparts.

Apparently the age and socioeconomic status (SES) of the grandparent also matters. Younger grandparents fed their grandchildren grain, cereal foods and savoury snacks more often than older grandparents.

Grandparents living in higher SES suburbs fed their grandkids fresh fruit more frequently, and sweet and savoury snacks less often compared to those in lower SES suburbs.

...grandfathers gave their grandkids with more savoury snacks than their female counterparts.

What should you do about the way nanna feeds your little one?

The study’s authors recommend that given the amount of time many grandparents currently spend caring for and feeding their grandchildren, they could play a stronger role in helping to improve childhood eating patterns and combating childhood obesity.

They suggest that although grandparents are generally providing a healthy food environment, they could use a bit more support to know what they should feed their grandchildren and how to cut back on unhealthy snacks.