Research shows that kids who diet – whether they are at a healthy weight or not – tend to end up being overweight eventually.

Modeling healthy behaviors for your children

Family Healthy Cooking

It is challenging and rewarding to raise children – we guide them by words and by example. Hopefully we serve as good role models. And this applies to helping children develop good eating and exercise habits, and a positive body image.

As you know, many kids are overweight and it is tempting for parents to want to put their kids on a diet. But this is not a good idea. Here is more from the American Academy of Pediatrics ( for teen obesity prevention.

Research shows that kids who diet – whether they are at a healthy weight or not – tend to end up being overweight eventually. These kids also take on unhealthy behaviors to try to lose weight, including fasting, using diet pills and laxatives, and engaging in excessive exercise.

As a parent it is important to lead by example. Don’t diet or discuss dieting, calories or restrictive eating at the table. If you are dieting, or serving foods around a specific diet, kids will definitely pick up on this. For example, if you are doing a low carb, high protein diet you might omit potatoes, rice, bread or pasta from family menus, and your kids will miss this nutritious component to meals. It would be better to serve a wide range of starches, and then you can model healthy portions of those starches. No foods should be completely off limits.

Develop and express a healthy body image for yourself and others! Kids will easily pick up on the negative comments that you make about your own weight and their weight. Those negative comments might come out unintentionally, but you don’t want to criticize or tease your children – ever – about their weight. Be supportive, positive and continue to model healthy eating and exercise behaviors yourself.

To help your children develop healthy eating habits, serve three meals – if you skip breakfast, there is a very high chance that your kids will too. Make the time for family meals – whether breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Kids need to talk with you face-to-face during meals that feature a variety of foods prepped at home.

Enjoy active time with your children, whether it is a family walk in the neighborhood, playing hopscotch or biking with them, they should grow up with physical activity and play time every single day.


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.