When it comes to lifestyle role models for your children, adults (especially parents) are the most important influence. In order to help kids try and like new foods and develop healthy eating habits, it is their responsibility to be the example. Meal time is family time, and making meals fun for everyone to make and eat is a vital aspect of a healthy lifestyle.
Child obesity is a growing epidemic that is not slowing down anytime soon, unfortunately. And not only do obese children suffer from health problems and mental anguish from bullying, studies show that children who are obese may likely be obese as adults as well.
The solution is not an easy one, and changes won’t happen overnight. But lifestyle choices must be changed for many families in order to grab hold of the problem and begin change. And it all starts with parents, teachers, daycare providers, and all other adults who have the power to help change obese children’s health.
“Be healthy yourself, follow food guidelines, exercise daily, and manage your own stress. You must make sure your oxygen mask is on before you help your child with his or hers. You must be an example of what you are preaching. Visualizations are a powerful tool to help get you in the right direction,” advises Dr. Riba.
Siblings can also be a positive role model for children. Younger brothers and sisters will likely copy older siblings’ good habits (eating vegetables, drinking water, exercising) as well as bad habits (watching TV all day, never trying new foods). Sibling behavior sometimes triggers children to give that extra effort when it comes to good habits because they want to be just like them.
The following guidelines to be a healthy role model are suggested by ChooseMyPlate.gov:
Show by example
Eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with meals or as snacks. Let your child see that you like to munch on raw vegetables.
Go food shopping together
Grocery shopping can teach your child about food and nutrition. Discuss where vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods come from. Let your children make healthy choices.
Get creative in the kitchen
Cut food into fun and easy shapes with cookie cutters. Name a food your child helps make. Serve “Janie’s Salad” or “Jackie’s Sweet Potatoes” for dinner. Encourage your child to invent new snacks. Make your own trail mixes from dry whole-grain, low-sugar cereal and dried fruit.
Offer the same foods for everyone
Stop being a “short-order cook” by making different dishes to please children. It’s easier to plan family meals when everyone eats the same foods.
Reward with attention, not food
Show your love with hugs and kisses. Comfort with hugs and talks. Choose not to offer sweets as rewards. It lets your child think sweets or dessert foods are better than other foods. When meals are not eaten, kids do not need “extras”—such as candy or cookies—as replacement foods.
Focus on each other at the table
Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime. Turn off the television. Take phone calls later. Try to make eating meals a stress-free time.
Listen to your child
If your child says he or she is hungry, offer a small, healthy snack—even if it is not a scheduled time to eat. Offer choices. Ask “Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?” instead of “Do you want broccoli for dinner?”
Limit screen time
Allow no more than 2 hours a day of screen time like TV and computer games. Get up and move during commercials to get some physical activity.
Encourage physical activity
Make physical activity fun for the whole family. Involve your children in the planning. Walk, run, and play with your child—instead of sitting on the sidelines. Set an example by being physically active and using safety gear, like bike helmets.
Be a good food role model
Try new foods yourself. Describe its taste, texture, and smell. Offer one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer new foods at the beginning of a meal, when your child is very hungry. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.