When it comes to being a mom or dad, your job as provider and caretaker “officially” ends when your child turns 18. But during those 18 years, the impact you make on your child’s health lasts a lifetime. Within the family setting, children are exposed to meal planning, food shopping, meal preparation, eating in and eating out, snacking, recreation, and even sitting still or lounging around. To win the war on obesity, the battle needs to start at home.
Here are some things parents can do to teach their kids healthy habits:
- Be a role model. Don’t just tell your children to eat fruit instead of a candy bar – let them see you do it, too. One effective way to teach anything is through example. In fact, studies show that the health habits kids learn in childhood follow them into adulthood.
- Think again. Look at your own eating and exercise habits and see what you can improve. Get off the bus one stop early and walk the extra distance to your destination. Serve more vegetables for dinner. Turn off the TV and do something outside.
- Focus on the “now.” Creating healthy habits now to prevent heart disease or diabetes in the future can be a bit abstract, especially for kids. You won’t feel bloated and tired if you eat smaller portions. You can have fun and see beautiful landscapes if you go on a hike. These are just some examples of how you can focus your child on the immediate benefits of healthy habits.
- Baby steps. If you tell your children they have to run two miles every day, you will likely get resistance. But if you make it a routine to take a walk before turning on the TV at night, or if you serve strawberries over angel food cake instead of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, your kids are much more likely to cooperate.
- Make a pact. Get everyone in the family to agree to things that will make them healthier. For example, make a deal that you won’t have dessert until after you take a walk together after dinner.
- Empower your kids. Take your children to the grocery store and let them shop for healthy food options with you. Teach them how to cook their favorite meal, and let them see you use healthy cooking techniques like steaming vegetables rather than frying them in butter.
- Dinner time! Eating dinner together as a family has been linked to healthy weight and healthy eating. Studies have found that when kids eat dinner with their parents, they eat more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and soda, less saturated and trans fat, and more fiber and micronutrients.
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Families finding the balance – a parent handbook. Accessed: 08/15/2010
- Gruber KJ, Haldeman LA. Using the family to combat childhood and adult obesity. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2009;6(3):A106.