For Parents Only: Making Mindful New Year’s Resolutions

If you’re a regular reader of The Scoop on Food, you know that most of my posts are focused on kids’ nutrition and health. For the last seven months during which I’ve had the privilege of writing this Parents blog, I’ve covered topics ranging from fast food and food safety to cutting back on empty calories and simply helping kids eat better. While the intent of this blog has always been—and will continue to be—providing you with up-to-date nutrition, diet, fitness and health information that empowers you to raise healthy and fit kids, in the words of Barry Manilow I decided that this one’s for you.

If you’re like many parents, you make New Year’s resolutions. Of course the road to making these declarations about how you’ll eat better, move more or kick a bad habit to the curb is often paved with good intentions. But no matter what those intentions are—to lose a few pounds, to enhance heart health, to reduce blood sugar or blood cholesterol level or to simply fit better into clothing—our kids see and hear about what we do, for better or worse, and internalize the messages of those actions.

Although some experts aren’t a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions, I see absolutely nothing wrong with using January 1st as a start day to turn that intention to join a gym (or to simply get to the gym more often), to eat more fruits and vegetables or to quit a vice (like that usual late-night pantry raid, that sipping all day on soda habit, or that habit of mindlessly grazing on empty-calorie foods) into action. But I’m a big advocate of framing those resolutions in a positive way. If we say to our kids, “I’m trying to help my heart work better,” or “I want to have more energy” they’re more likely to see our changes as proactive and productive ones. We will too! If, on the other hand, we frame resolutions in negative ways by saying things like, “I hate the way I look and need to get into shape once and for all,” or “I need to lose all that weight I gained over the holidays” to justify or explain our actions in front of or to our kids, the message we’re likely sending to our kids (even though that’s not our intent) is that these healthier habits—eating certain so-called “healthy” foods or exercising—is some sort of punishment for our failures.

When we as parents make resolutions that include going on some sort of popular or restrictive diet (here’s a roundup of several from 2013 according to this USNews.com), it’s important to think twice about doing so—after all, losing weight, if that means losing our health along the way, doesn’t really make sense, now does it? But it’s also important for us to be mindful about the messages those resolutions and the subsequent eating habits we practice send to our kids. For example, if we encourage our children to eat more fruits and vegetables but, at the same time, we eliminate certain fruits from our own diets, or if we give our children whole grain cereal, pasta and potatoes with their meals but ban these or other carbohydrate-rich foods (not for legitimate health or medical reasons but because it’s required by the new diet we’re following), what message does that send our kids about what comprises a healthful diet? Seems like a mixed message to me.

Parents are people too. Sometimes we are going to eat and live differently than our kids for one reason or another. And because we’re grown-ups we really don’t need to justify any of our actions to our kids. But because one of our goals as parents is to raise kids who eat well (at least most of the time) and who are active and fit and feel good about themselves, shouldn’t we try to do the same ourselves in order to set a positive example? Nourishing, caring for and respecting ourselves by making realistic and science-based behavior changes that we can maintain long-term helps us set a far healthier example to our kids than constant dieting or starting and stopping our gym membership or active lifestyle. Won’t finding a lifestyle that unites us rather than divides us from our families help us be better role models for our kids, especially little ones who are so impressionable?

My wish for all parents in the New Year is that when you make New Year’s resolutions they include small goals that encourage you to take small steps rather than big ones that require you to completely overhaul your diet and life. All those tiny tweaks will add up over time to help you achieve and maintain a healthier, happier and more vibrant you. You may think that slow and steady is boring and trite, but in the end it ultimately does win the race. None of us is perfect, and we will all make mistakes and will continue to when caring for ourselves and when raising our kids. But trying to live and show our kids a more moderate and sensible approach to eating and living well will likely pay long-term dividends for the whole family. When we show our children that we can create realistic resolutions that morph into sensible and sustainable behaviors that help our clothes fit us more comfortably, that help our abs be leaner or our biceps stronger or help us simply have more energy to play ball or dance with our kids, they’ll likely internalize—and may even try to mimic—those better-for-you behaviors. How’s that for a healthy start to a New Year?

How do you model healthy habits—and provide positive messages—to your children?

Image of apple wrapped in tape via shutterstock.

Find healthy finger food recipes for your tot here.

Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating

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