How to Inspire Healthy Family Eating Habits
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It has been said that “today’s generation of children may be the first to have a life expectancy shorter than their parents.” What a bleak statement in the 21st century! Approximately 33 percent of children, or one in three, are either overweight or obese. The result - our children are now being plagued with adult diseases such as bone and joint disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, heart disease and many others. As parents and caregivers, we are the ones who can ignite change. We can give our children the tools, knowledge and hope for a healthier life.
Approaching healthy habits from a “whole family” approach is critical for long-term success. Staying active together and selecting nutritious foods are keys to fostering wellness within the family and working together on the same “team” to achieve a healthy, long-term lifestyle.
A “Gold-Star Feeding Relationship” is the responsibility of both the parents and the children. As a parent, you are the “provider” or gatekeeper. This means you are responsible for providing and offering healthy meals and snack choices. You are in charge of managing the food environment, what is being served, when it is served and where food is consumed. The child’s role is the “decider.” He or she decides how much to eat and whether or not to eat. This responsibility empowers your child to make his or her own choices and arms him or her with the tools to be successful. If your child chooses not eat what is provided, it is not your responsibility to be a short-order cook. It is actually better for you and your child when you serve the same foods for the entire family. If he or she refuses to eat, that is his or her choice.
Inspiring Healthy Habits for Your Family:
- You are your child’s most influential teacher and role model. Don’t drink a soft drink if you expect them to drink milk or water.
- Involve your children. Take them to the grocery store and ask them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try. Studies have shown that kids in the kitchen are more likely to try a new food if they are involved in food preparation. They can help with something as simple as washing or snapping the green beans or arranging a vegetable tray.
- Set a regular mealtime and eat as a family, as often as possible. If not dinner, try breakfast.
- Begin with breakfast to help boost their energy and brainpower, which is especially important for school. Remember they are more likely to eat breakfast if you do, too!
- Keep mealtimes positive. Don’t open the floodgates to power struggles. It’s your job to present healthy food, not to get it down their throat!
- Turn off and tune in. No TV, phones, etc. Engage them by having a conversation with your kids at mealtime.
- Studies have shown it can take up to 10-20 times for a child to accept a new food, so don’t get frustrated if he or she doesn't like it the first time. Keep trying!
- Children love to dip. Encourage your kids to eat more vegetables and try new ones just by offering a light cheese sauce, low-fat dressing or salsa to go with it.
- Banish the bribe. Don’t reward children with food, such as promising an ice cream dessert if they eat their broccoli. Studies have shown bribes lead to a greater dislike of the food over time.
- Limit all juices and sodas in favor of water or milk (fat-free or 1% milk).
- Downsize portions when eating out. Split the meal with your child or help guide them to order healthier options off the kids menu.
- Reduce screen time to two hours or less per day.
- Be physically active as a family for one hour or more every day. Be a “move it” family.
Remember healthy habits are flexible, forgiving and require lots of patience. It’s a process and a journey with the goal of progress, NOT perfection. Moderation is the key. You can make the decision as a parent to make gradual changes and replace less healthy habits with healthier ones…that over time yield strong, lean and healthy kids!
Article provided by Patty Kirk, RDN, LD
, Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist