Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home
As we move into another school year, it is important as a parent to take a few minutes to assess family habits that may have an impact on your child's health - frequency of fast food and/or dining out with big portions and sweet drinks, tv and computer time with kid-aimed advertising, limited family activities built around exercise or outdoor play time - all have an impact on the health of American children.
There is a secret weapon to raising healthy children - the parents. Parents have the most influence on the eating and food habits of children. So parents, walk the talk. Love being healthy and active, and share that enthusiasm with your children. Raise them in a happy, healthy family environment that has high standards for food choices and family meals.
Building healthy habits in children begins in the home:
- Eat at home more often. It gives you control over the “what and when” of food and eating.
- Cook together as a family. Involve the kids in the preparation and cleanup after meals.
- Eat together around the table. It provides an important time for conversation, and for parents to be the role models in enjoying mealtime.
- Provide nourishing meals with a variety of foods and a balance of nutrients. Meals can still be fun. For example, balance a pizza with a raw veggie platter.
- Talk about the food being served - where it comes from, how it is grown, experiment with a different preparation technique.
Enjoyable and relaxing meals are so important for all members of the family. A few guidelines to keep out the distractions:
- Have set meal time hours that are reasonable for everyone to be there.
- Set ground rules such as no TV, phone, computers or other distractions.
- Eliminate any pressure to clean the plate; respect that children will know when they are full.
Growing healthy children is a challenge for all parents. Parents first need to be a healthy role model, exhibiting their own healthy behaviors, so that the children can imitate those behaviors. For example, if the parent drinks milk with all meals, the children will also; harder to get them to do that if parents are drinking sodas. And be sure to get input from your children for mealtime ideas. They can help with meal planning, and also learn what additional foods would make it more balanced nutrition-wise. For example, they may want mac n' cheese but together you can decide on the vegetable and fruit that will round out the meal.
About the Author
Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.
By: Rita P. Smith, MS, RD, CDE, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital