Children will reap physical health and nutritional benefits of a lifetime through positive parental steps.
Each new year brings family pledges of adopting a healthier and more active lifestyle. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages parents to help their kids learn to make healthier food choices and engage in regular physical activity by being a good role model.
“As a parent or guardian, you are the most influential role model in your child’s life,” said registered dietician nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Kim Larson. “Modelling healthy eating behaviours encourages children to adopt and choose healthy behaviours that will benefit them for a lifetime.”
A study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation showed parents have more potential to influence their children’s behaviour, including their eating habits, than anyone else. In fact, parents outrank sports celebrities as the person the child would like to be most, according to the survey. “By eating healthy foods and making sure to offer them to their children, parents can give their kids opportunities to learn to like a variety of nutritious foods,” Larson said.
“You may not be a perfect health model for your kids, but if they see you making a real effort to improve your own habits, they will start to realize that being healthy is important,” Larson said.
Setting Realistic Goals
Small steps add up, and Larson recommends making healthy lifestyle changes that are realistic and easy to stick with for the long-haul. Try adopting healthy changes for the entire family, such as:
- Make sure your kids know they are part of the team and that health and fitness are a family affair.
- Encourage your children to help plan meals, from developing the menu to shopping, preparing and serving the meal.
- Serve regular, balanced meals and snacks with a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
- Eat breakfast every day.
- Enjoy family dinner together each night or as often as possible.
- At each meal, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Make at least half of the grains you eat wholegrain.
- Get active. Fit in physical activity where you can in your day, whether taking a family walk after dinner or hitting the gym. Remember, children and teens should get 60 or more minutes of physical activity per day, and adults should get two and a half hours per week.
Focus on Overall Health, Not Weight Alone
“Remember to focus on health, not weight. You don’t want your kids to think that a healthy lifestyle is only about how much they weigh,” Larson said.
“Concentrate on delicious nutrition and fun physical activity. Children don’t need to work out – they need to play with family and friends. Children shouldn’t be counting calories or restricting their food; they need to enjoy regular meals and learn how to make smart, tasty snack choices. And remember to stay positive.”
“Nutrition and fitness are great goals because they give us energy to do all things that we want to do. Whatever our age or size, we feel better when we take care of our bodies,” she said. “And by role modelling healthy behaviours, you’ll have the added benefit of seeing your children adopt a healthier lifestyle as well.”