As a parent or caregiver to young children, there can be a lot of pressure to ‘raise a good healthy eater.’ With so much available information around food, it’s hard to know what’s best. Do you know how to be a healthy role model?
What does ‘good’ eating look like? Is it making sure to eat your meal before moving to dessert? Is it eating lots of fruits and vegetables? Is it clearing your plate?
What if there were no set rules on the types and amounts of foods that ‘good eaters’ ate? It’s not surprising that parents and caregivers feel this pressure, given that eating habits in early life set us up for how we will eat as we age. Since being a healthy role model is quite a large topic, let’s focus on two important actions; your actions and your words.
Your Actions: Children are Observant
Like all things, children learn lots about eating habits by simply observing and mimicking the eating patterns of those around them. This means that one of the greatest things you can do to help your child grow up to be a healthy eater is to display a healthy eating pattern yourself.
A ‘healthy eating pattern’ includes lots of fruits and vegetables, foods that are as minimally processed as possible, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats, lots of colors, as well as foods that are purely for enjoyment.
Aside from just the food, a healthy eating pattern includes eating together as a family at regular meal times (that work for you and your family of course), eating mindfully, following your hunger and fullness cues, and trying new foods.
While it may be difficult to get the family together for a family meal, eating together is actually quite important. Research shows that eating more family meals during adolescence is connected to eating more shared meals in adulthood, plus a better diet overall.
Eating behaviors like restricting foods or eating on the go can have the opposite effect. Research has found that those who diet are likely to have mothers who diet as well. Children who have restricted access to certain foods actually have greater preference for those foods and tend to over consume them when given the chance.
Not only is it important to watch the dieting and restrictive behaviors you have for yourself, think about the ones you introduce to your children. Think about what your child sees in your eating, and how that might influence their future choices.
While actions often speak louder than words, words still matter. Consider how you present foods and talk about them. Instead of categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ remember that all foods fit in a healthy diet.
Present all foods in a neutral way, instead of using foods as a reward or punishment. Studies have found that pressuring children to eat certain foods can actually decrease the chances of children liking them.
Oppositely, children are more likely to like foods that are used as rewards. This means children learn that there must be something good about that ice cream cone you offer for their good behavior and the broccoli you pressure them to eat becomes much less interesting.
A Final Note on Being a Healthy Role Model
It’s most important to note that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ diet and everyone is simply doing their best for themselves and their families. Feeling pressure as a parent is normal, but remember, you’re doing your best – so keep it up!
In what ways are you a healthy role model for your kids? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
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