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In today’s world of fast foods, packaged and processed snacks, and sugar laden soft drinks, teaching your children about healthy eating habits can be a real challenge. But while it’s true that temptation is all around, it’s still possible to instill a healthy nutritional foundation in your children. In fact, now more than ever parents need to take responsibility to help their children avoid the obesity trap. The key: the earlier you start, the better.
The foundation for teaching kids about good nutrition should be laid when they are babies. Medical editor Dr. Michael Breen in Chicago suggests that parents should expose young children to new foods regularly, but separately. For example, one week you might introduce your toddler to broccoli, and the next week black beans. Breen also recommends introducing a new food alongside a child’s favorite food.
Children Do As You Do, Not As You Say
Another finding, which may not be what some parents want to hear, is that if you want your kids to eat well, you need to practice what you preach. A March 2000 study presented by the American Heart Association found a strong connection between parents who exhibited impulsive eating and obesity in their children. It’s important for parents to realize that children are being influenced by their own eating habits even if the child is not participating directly in it.
Take for example, a mother who eats a pint of ice cream out of the container while watching television with her 5 year old. While the child did not eat the ice cream them self, and in fact may only be allowed moderate portions of ice cream on occasion, the behavior of their mother is still indirectly influencing their attitude, opinions, and eventually their own eating habits.
Another interesting point brought up by this study is that parents who scored highest on the dietary restraint scale (which is a scale that measures an individual’s effort to restrict food intake) had children whose body fat was consistently higher than parents who scored lower on the scale. This suggests that parents who attempt to exert too much control over their child’s eating (I.E. “Finish all your pasta before you play” or “No dessert until you clear your plate”, etc.) may cause the child to lose their ability to regulate and recognize their own hunger cues.
So besides starting early, practicing what you preach and introducing new foods regularly, what else can you do as a parent to help foster a healthy nutritional foundation in your child? Here are some other simple tips to get you on your way:
- Limit soda to special occasions only, and instead offer water and no sugar added juices to drink. One really healthy and fun snack for kids is real fruit smoothies. They pack in the nutritional punch as well as taste so good!
- Use milk containing no more than 2% milk fat, 1% or skim is preferred
- Don’t completely restrict foods (unless of course your child has an allergy to that food). Restricting and banning certain foods tends to backfire and cause the child to seek the forbidden food even more.
- When introducing new foods, don’t force your child to eat it. If they taste it and express dislike, don’t make them finish the food. Instead, put it aside and re-introduce it in a few months, perhaps prepared differently. For example, if they didn’t like cauliflower the first time around, in a few months make it with a tasty sauce.
- Breakfast is important! If you have a child that isn’t particularly fond of traditional “breakfast foods”, a small portion of leftover dinner will do the trick. The goal is to get the metabolism going and prevent overeating at lunch or snack time from excessive hunger..