Raise A Healthy Eater: Modeling Good Eating Habits For Your Children

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 1:57pm

By Erica Lesperance, RD, LD

Have you ever said a curse word in front of your child, only to hear him repeating that word later? Kids are highly imitative, so you probably try to not to say things around them that you would not want them to repeat. However, do you realize that children learn as much, if not more from your actions as they do from your words? Just as children pick up positive habits such as saying please and thank you, they will also pick up your attitudes about health and fitness as they observe the lifestyle that you choose to lead. This does not mean that you have to be perfect so your children will grow up to be perfect too. Nobody is perfect. However, you do need to figure out what kind of example you are setting for your children.

Examining your own eating behavior

To get a sense of what habits your children are picking up, start by examining your own behavior. Did you eat breakfast this morning? If so, did it include nutritious foods like fruit, whole grains, and milk? Maybe you were simply too busy so you grabbed a pop tart. Did you do something physically active in the past 24 hours? Perhaps you spent most of your day at a demanding job and then crashed in front of the TV. Do you regularly eat your 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables or do you think that is too difficult to do? Your answers to these questions are an indication of the healthfulness of your lifestyle. If you are making unhealthy lifestyle choices, you are not the only one who is suffering. You are also sending unhealthy messages to your children, and regardless of what you tell them to do, they will continue to imitate your behavior. Childhood obesity is now recognized as a national epidemic, and poor eating habits and lack of physical activity are to blame. Fostering the development of unhealthy eating behaviors and sedentary lifestyle will increase the likelihood that your children will be overweight and/or unhealthy adults. No parent wants that outcome for their children!

Daily eating and exercise: setting a good example to your children

If you find there is a discrepancy between what you expect from your children and what you do yourself when it comes to eating and exercise, then you may need to adopt some new habits. Establishing the following habits for yourself will benefit your children as they continue to follow your lead.

  • Never skip breakfast.
  • Eat meals and snacks consistently.
  • Try new foods (offer them to your children, but don't force them to try anything).
  • Drink only milk or water with meals.
  • Do not drink soft drinks.
  • Turn the TV and other media off while eating.
  • Limit junk food in the house.
  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into most meal and snacks.
  • Eat fruit for dessert, or skip dessert altogether.
  • Eat at least one meal of the day as a family.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend watching television.

Conclusion: children imitate you, so ensure you show them you have a healthy lifestyle

Your children will continue to imitate your behavior throughout adulthood. If you eat well, stay physically active and maintain an overall healthy lifestyle, your children are likely to follow the same positive patterns. So the next time you want to order a cola with your lunch or opt for French fries instead of a salad, think about the message you want to send and alter your behavior accordingly. The best way to help your children be healthier is to be healthier yourself!