In the universe of everyday worries for parents of young children, mealtime ranks near the top of the list: Are they eating too much or too little? Why do they load up at snack time, then sit and play with their food during dinner? And how to persuade them to eat their peas and carrots?
Leann L. Birch, a developmental psychologist who died of cancer May 26 at age 72, devoted more than four decades to the study of how children eat, revolutionizing a field that was once largely limited to questions of nutrition. Healthy eating, she showed, is far more complex than the intake of calories and vitamins — and need not be the daily battle many parents fight.
“Every parent wants their child to grow well and thrive, and I think when it comes to nutrition, a lot of parents fundamentally understand what healthy diets look like,” Jennifer Orlet Fisher, a former student of Dr. Birch’s and the associate director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, said in an interview.
“But how to get kids there, how to get kids to like to eat healthy foods is another challenge altogether,” she added. She said Dr. Birch’s research provided the first “scientific basis for understanding how children develop food likes and dislikes a