A model of nutrition

Children learn healthy eating habits and positive body image from their parents

By Edie Shaw-Ewald

If you want your children to eat their vegetables, eat yours. 

“We as parents are our children’s first and best role models, and this is particularly true when it comes to their health,” said American First Lady Michelle Obama in a 2013 speech. “We can’t lie around on the couch eating french fries and candy bars and expect our kids to eat carrots and run around the block.” 

Eating habits and lifestyle are shaped by many factors including genetics and environment. But what parents eat, their relationship with food, their body image, and whether they are physically active can have a major influence on their children’s present and future diet and lifestyle.

But being a healthy role model may not always fit into your day-to-day plans. 

On busy school mornings you encourage (nag) your child to eat breakfast, but you dash off with a coffee and a granola bar? 

You make sure your child has a sport or two to keep them active, but you sit in the stands to watch every practice instead of going for walk or hitting the gym?

If chronic dieting is part of your life, explore ways to reach your goals in healthy and sustainable ways. Do products with labels boasting fat-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free fill your fridge? These types of food aren’t always the healthiest and children may learn to value food for what it doesn’t contain, rather than choosing foods as a source of nourishment for their bodies. Listen to what you say when you are having a treat. If you often say, “I shouldn’t be eating this,” show kids it is okay to have a treat once in awhile. Really enjoy the occasional treat with them rather than beating yourself up about eating it. 

Body image
Be aware of how you talk about your body. Show respect to your body by not putting yourself down or talking about parts you don’t like. Focus on what you like about it.

Eating style
Do you gobble up your food and go back for seconds? Do you eat in front of a screen? Whenever possible, eat together at the table and take time to enjoy your food. This gives you the opportunity to socialize with your children and doesn’t encourage overeating.

Healthy food attitude 
Do the kids hear you saying negative things about healthy foods? Describe healthy foods in positive ways and show the kids that you’re unafraid to try something new.

Nutrition obsession
Counting calories, grams of fat, and milligrams of sodium can really take the joy out of food. Stick with real, whole foods most of the time and all of that tedium of reducing food to its separate parts won’t be necessary. Show your kids what choosing, preparing, and cooking whole foods is all about. 

Take a look at your eating habits and lifestyle. Do you want your child to grow into a lifestyle like yours? Or could you take better care of yourself and ensure a better health future for you and your child at the same time?

Don’t stress about being a perfect role model. Strive for your best version of a healthy lifestyle and that (along with lots of love and affection) will be perfect for your children.