Eating by Example

A young child and adult enjoying a piece of fruitChildhood obesity is becoming a major health issue, and parents everywhere are concerned about teaching their children to eat nutritious meals and maintain a healthy weight. Here are some basic ideas for instilling good nutrition habits in your kids from an early age:

• Set the right example. Let your children see you eating and enjoying good food, not junk, in the right portion size.

Rethink family eating habits. Certain habits, such as having a decadent dessert every night after dinner or eating unhealthy snacks right after school, should be transformed into healthier habits.

• Provide a healthy variety. Make nutritious food available in your home. Guide your family’s choices rather than dictate foods.

• Involve your children. Take them to the store so they can see what you choose and so they can make a few selections of their own. Teach them to read a nutrition label. Make shopping a fun, teachable experience. Enlist them in helping prepare meals so they see what goes into a healthy dinner. Talk about where fruits and vegetables come from, and what goes into processed foods. If you have room for a garden, plant some vegetables and herbs with the family.

• Eat together. As much as possible, schedule dinners together so everyone in the family can join. These dinners should be relaxing and enjoyable. A study shows that kids who eat meals with their parents at least three times a week are 12% less likely to become overweight; prompting researchers to call for more “shared meals.”

Turn off the TV, computer and digital games during meal times: Remove all distractions so your kids can eat mindfully . This will help them to stop eating when they are full.

• Remind everyone to slow down. The faster people eat, the more they eat, generally speaking. Don’t let your kids race through dinner; urge them to take their time with every bite.

• Drink water. Water is better than soda and other sugary drinks, and helps kids feel full between meals.

Don’t use food as a reward or punishment. A healthy relationship with food and eating starts at a young age. Don’t bribe your young ones with the promise of a certain food for positive behavior or with the threat of not getting a certain food as a penalty for negative behavior.

• Don’t give up. Studies show that most children need between 5 and 10 exposures to try new foods. To get this exposure, introduce new, nutritious foods slowly but steadily.

There is a fun and really helpful site, playnormous.com, that’s loaded with healthy games and stories. Although it’s geared to the kindergartner to 5th grader, everyone in the family can learn something from this site.

Remember, there are two gifts a parent can give a child that simply can’t be trumped; the gifts of unconditional love and good health.

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