As a parent, you are probably the most important influence on your kids' food and body attitudes. Your children are forming lifelong nutrition and fitness habits by watching and listening to you. Here's how to make sure they're learning the right stuff.
Setting the Example
It may sound obvious, but you need to set a good example by what and how you eat. Choose from a variety of food groups and offer healthy choices: fresh fruits, veggies, yogurt, raisins, and dry cereal, for example.
Even if you're not a routine-oriented person, try to have at least two sit-down meals a day with your kids. Although your children may prefer to graze throughout the day, they will still benefit from practicing mealtime basics. Don't worry if your child doesn't "clean his plate." For the most part, toddlers and young children stop eating when they're full.
Open your fridge and pantry and see what choices you're giving your hungry kids. Be sure to keep nutritious, ready-to-eat foods in the first place they look. Make a habit of stocking sliced fruit and veggies with dip on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Who knows -- your own snack habits might improve, too!
Moving Right Along
You know that exercise is good for you and your family, but how can you make it fun? Stock the family room, garage, and yard with plenty of sports equipment and balls. Instead of sitting in front of the TV after dinner, go for a stroll to the local park. You'll be more likely to catch up on the day's events in your child's life if you're not glued to the tube.
Stick with the Pyramid
You have probably heard things in the news lately about high-protein or low-carb diets. You should never put your child on such a restricted food regimen. Despite all the recent hype, the food pyramid still stands. Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the guidelines recommend food intake from the five main groups: milk, protein, fruits, vegetables, and grains. (You can check out the specific guidelines at www.usda.gov, the official Web site of the USDA.)
What You Say Matters, Too
Try to send positive messages about food to your children. Teach them that we eat to live; we don't live to eat. One of the best ways to put this lesson into action is to eat only when you're hungry, not when you're sad or bored. Just as you shouldn't reward yourself with food, don't reward your kids with it!
Never be critical of your own body (or other people's bodies) in front of your children. Be sure to let them know that healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes, and that what you do with your body is what matters most. Even if you're trying to lose weight to improve your health, don't talk about your dieting around your kids. Research shows that children are more likely to become lifelong dieters when parents place a lot of emphasis on weight.
Even if you stick to the above ideas, you should be aware of the other influences on your child. Try to think about the shows your kids are watching. Do they promote a healthy self-image? Girls, especially, are influenced from an early age by what they see in magazines and on TV. Be sure that their reading material portrays women and their bodies in a realistic, healthy manner.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.