Many parents are very concerned with their children’s eating habits. They often want to know how to get their children to eat more “healthy foods” and/or how to limit their intake of “junk foods”. They get concerned about whether their kids are eating enough to meet their nutrient needs and/or if their kids are eating too much. Today, I came across an article by Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RD, CDE entitled “Parenting food choices through family meals as a way to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans”. This article addresses many of these questions, and so I will summarize some of the key points below.
Family Eating Habits Make a Difference
Experts believe that children develop lifelong eating habits by the age of 6 years old. So, the family food environment and parent’s food choices do impact their children both short and long term. Studies have found that the types of food found in the house may put your child at risk of being overweight, and overweight children are more likely to be overweight adults. For example, you are more likely to have overweight kids if you’re kids:
- Have more sweet snacks and caloric beverages (i.e. sodas, sports drinks, fruit punch, etc) available to them.
- Don’t eat a lot of vegetables (and they can’t eat them if they aren’t served them)
- Have a higher calorie consumption. This often comes from eating foods that are high in fat and/or sugar.
Not only do the food choices you have at home influence your child’s eating habits, so do your eating patterns. Children learn through observation, and you serve as their eating role model. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t seem to work when it comes to eating.
Some ideas to help create a healthy food environment at home are to:
- Decide on one place to eat meals. Eat at the table instead of in front of TV or while in the car.
- Family meals have been linked with a lower rate of obesity and improved lifestyle habits.
- Only have healthy beverage choices on hand. Offer water, milk or 100% fruit juice and keep sodas and sugary beverages out of the house.
- Provide nutritious foods at snacks and meals.
- Include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats
- Limit: highly processed foods, refined grains (i.e. white breads, crackers), fatty-meats, cookies, chips, sugary snacks, etc.
- Avoid excessive restriction of foods or using food as a bribe or reward. Anything can fit in moderation, but portion control is the key! If you have some “junk food” in the house, keep it out of sight and buy (or make) portion controlled servings. These items should be “treat foods” and not the base of the diet.
- Encourage breakfast daily. Kids who eat breakfast tend to be at a healthier weight than kids who skip breakfast.
In summary, as a parent, you don’t need to serve as the food police. However, you’re responsibility is to be the gate keeper and you ultimately decide what comes into the house and what doesn’t. So, try to create an environment which helps the kids (and yourself) make smart food choices. Make sure to have plenty of fruits and vegetables on hand, and try to fill up half of the plate at dinner with this produce and offer it at all meals and snacks. It may take your child several times before they really like it, but don’t give up. Also, remember that your children are watching what you eat, so try to serve as a healthy role model.