I am the mom of 6 kids – the youngest is 19. I always had the hardest time trying to get them to eat healthy. I will admit that sometimes – IT WAS A BATTLE!! I would bribe, threaten, and beg them to eat their food.
Research clearly shows that the eating and exercise habits we build as children oftentimes follow us into adulthood.
The most recent data on childhood obesity rates in the United States show that it is still high. The causes of childhood obesity are complex and explanations range from genetics to mom gaining too much weight during pregnancy to environmental factors that we can’t control and lifestyle choices that we can. The “factor” that is often considered to be the most influential on a child’s weight status is their home food environment AND their parents.
Its important for us to be examples to our children. We cant expect them to learn a healthy lifestyle if we don’t practice what we preach. If you want healthy little people- it is important to be healthy ourselves. Like most things in life, our children tend to mimic the things they see us do. Why would your daughter try the asparagus if you aren’t eating it yourself? Why would your son choose to do something active after dinner if you sit down at the TV as soon as the dishes are done? We have the power to not only tell our children about healthy habits BUT most importantly we can SHOW them. They are ALWAYS watching.
We need to take the lead on determining what foods will be served because we are not inherently born with a desire to like or reach for “healthy” food options. We have to develop those preferences over time. If you let your kids plan the weekly menu, Im sure you would be be eating pancakes every morning for breakfast, mac and cheese for lunch, pizza for dinner and chocolate ice cream for dessert….with some chocolate milk and cookies thrown in for snacks.
As children age, they should get more and more involved with determining the what by helping with things like
- Making selections between having broccoli or cauliflower for dinner
- Choosing the apples from the bins at the store
- Helping with washing and preparing lettuce for salads
As they grow older they can gradually take more and more responsibility for the what as they transition into young adulthood.
- The when food is served refers to the responsibility of parents to make sure that regular meals and snacks are available.
Remember – If you let your child have the option to drink juice all day and snack on crackers, they will pick that!!!!
They will chose that over waiting to eat the “healthier” meals.
Where we eat our meals ties into a strong line of research that shows that children in families who eat meals at the dinner table together have healthier diets.
Make a rule that all eating of food must occur at the kitchen table. That will help limit snacking all day AND will encourage more mindful enjoyment of food with others.
If all adults continue to eat like infants (eat when hungry, stop when full), we would no longer have an obesity epidemic. BUT our society and overall eating environment does not encourage us to eat in that way. By the time a child is 5 or 6, they eat in response to external cues more often than listening to their own bodies. So, as parents, it’s important that we respect a child’s word when they say they aren’t hungry or that they really are full after only a few bites of food to encourage them to respond to internal cues for as long as possible!
So if you want to have healthy eaters, be the example and eat your fruit and veggies!!!
Parents also need to recognize that sometimes it just takes a few introductions (some research suggest a minimum of 10-12 exposures) to a new food for a child to accept it. So, keep putting those veggies on their plates and eventually as they keep seeing how much you love em, they will come around to trying and loving them as well. Being creative with exposures can help too! Counting raspberries on your fingers or playing with raw veggies and blocks all count as exposures to that food as well so get creative and have fun with food!
Finally, reduce the pressure you place on your child during meal and snack times. Allow them to say no if they don’t want to try a new food that way they will feel empowered to say YES when they are ready.