Have you ever said a swear word in front of your child only to have him or her repeat it at the worst possible time? Young children are very impressionable and want to emulate their parents in every way. In the same manner, eating habits and attitudes toward food are developed early in life, so it’s essential that parents be good role models when it comes to nutrition and exercise.
March is National Nutrition Month, and the theme for 2002 is "Start Today for a Healthy Tomorrow." The American Dietetic Association thinks this is good advice for parents and their children. Studies show that eating healthfully as a child helps to establish a foundation of good nutrition and healthful lifestyle habits that can reduce the risks for obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases later in life. So don’t wait – start today – and make healthy eating and regular physical activity a family affair.
The ADA offers the following tips on how parents can encourage their children to eat healthfully.
- At the supermarket, ask your children to choose their favorite vegetable to include with dinner that night.
- Page through a cookbook together for a new recipe for a vegetable or fruit dish, then let your children help prepare it.
- Have your children assist with making dinner. Depending on age, kids can help prepare food by washing, peeling, stirring, cutting, pouring, measuring and cleaning up. Although this may take extra patience and time, kids are more likely to eat what they help to make.
- Stock a variety of healthy foods for after-school snacks. Keep ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. Low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheeses, whole-wheat toast, graham crackers and dry cereals also are good choices to keep on hand.
- Check out children’s books about fruits and vegetables from the local library. Read the story, then taste the fruits and veggies together.
- Start a vegetable garden together. If you don’t have room in the back yard, plant a container garden. Most kids will eat vegetables they grow.
To increase exercise, the ADA suggests the following activities for parents and children to do together.
- Throw a Frisbee to each other or the dog.
- Ride bikes together after dinner and on weekends.
- Take a long walk after dinner to help burn off calories. It’s a great time to talk, too.
- Learn a new sport. Try tennis, yoga or a new dance.
- If there’s snow, make a snowman or go sledding, ice skating or skiing.
- Go horseback riding, enjoy a hike in a nearby park or venture into the mountains.
- Play a game of tag or kickball in the back yard, playground or park.