As a parent, one of the most important gifts you can give your child are the tools to healthy eating, but it is a challenge that can be compounded significantly when you have a busy family schedule or a child who is a fussy eater. Our children are constantly being exposed to a cornucopia of unhealthy junk foods that has largely created a different health threat – childhood obesity and the associated diseases that until recently were never seen in young people. This is why it’s more important now than ever that parents act as good food role models.
There are dozens of ways you can teach your child to have a healthy relationship with food. Here are ways to help you be a better role model, based on what scientific studies have found:
Start Healthy Nutrition Early
A growing body of evidence suggests that the food choices a mother makes during pregnancy may influence an infant’s later acceptance of solid foods. Introducing healthy foods to a fetus during pregnancy and an infant through breast milk can go a long way to role modeling the right foods.
Promote Family Dinner as an Important Goal
As kids start to get older and schedules get more hectic, dining together as a family often becomes a challenge. That’s why you have to make it a priority. A Columbia University study found a relationship between frequent family dinners and a decreased risk of children taking up smoking, drinking, and drugs as they get older. According to the report, “parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children.”
Don’t Skip Breakfast
Breakfast skippers tend to have unhealthy eating habits compared to breakfast eaters. Studies show young people who skip breakfast consume 40 percent more sweets, 55 percent more soft drinks, 45 percent fewer vegetables, and 30 percent less fruit than young people who eat breakfast.
Limit Meals Away From Home
Eating away from home and in restaurants exposes children to particularly large portions of calories and fat adding up to over 300 calories to daily intake.
Be Authoritative, Not Authoritarian
Studies reveal that constantly telling you children they need to eat more fruit and vegetables and less junk food has a boomerang effect. Instead, influence their choices by explaining why it’s important to eat healthily and making sure that good foods are available to them at each meal.
Show By Example
The best way to get your children to eat more vegetables is to set a good example by eating them yourself. Besides modeling healthy eating behaviors, as a parent it’s up to you to decide what foods to make available to your children at home.
Don’t Keep Junk Food in the House
Kids should not have open access to any snack or food they want at any time they want. If there are foods you do not want your kids to eat, do not keep them in the house. It’s also helpful to establish a system whereby your child must ask permission to eat a snack.
In many ways, good parenting is being willing to fight, to be uncomfortable, and to not take the easy way out. It’s especially important with food choices and meals. Be firm and stick to your nutrition goals. For more tips about how to instill healthy eating for the whole family, check out chapter 4 of my book “The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan.”