Family mealtimes can have a lasting impact on the eating habits that shape children as they grow into adulthood and begin making food choices of their own. This is why eating together is an important part of helping children challenged by obesity. Eating together leads to more interest in nutrition — kids will try more fruits and vegetables that they see on their parents’ plates — and, according to a study conducted by in 2007 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, kids who ate with their families enjoyed healthier diets and tended to not be overweight.
Winning with MyPlate
On June 2, 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture introduced its MyPlate initiative, which replaced the classic food pyramid. According to its website, “MyPlate is a reminder to find your healthy eating style and build it throughout your lifetime. Everything you eat and drink matters. The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future.” The initiative divides its mission into four objectives:
- Focus on variety, amount, and nutrition.
- Choose foods and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
- Start with small changes to build healthier eating styles.
- Support healthy eating for everyone.
From the four objectives, the initiative expands into which foods and serving sizes are necessary to achieve a well-balanced and nutritious diet. They are: whole fruits (including fresh, frozen, dried, and canned), vegetables (dark-green, red and orange, legumes, and starchy), whole grains (including refined and enriched), protein (both animal and plant sources), dairy (low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt, and cheeses), and oils (nuts, olives, and avocados). Using this model, you can create complete meals that are delicious and nutritious.
Getting Both Parents Involved
Cooking with your children is a great way to teach them the importance of nutrition. In a study titled, Overweight Children: Is Parental Nutrition Knowledge a Factor? it was found that “obesity prevention and/or treatment should focus on early attention and involvement of parents and promotion of healthful eating and exercise. Parental nutrition knowledge is essential for monitoring eating habits of children, identifying high-calorie foods, and understanding the long-term risks of obesity.” In the same study, it was demonstrated that when fathers were more involved in food choices, only 22 percent of children were overweight and when mothers chose foods, just 29 percent of children were overweight. So making sure that both parents are active in the choices and preparation of food can help prevent or reduce obesity in youth.
Rules for the Road
When teaching your child about foods, avoid restricting foods or labeling them “good” or “bad.” Instead, talk about the health benefits of the foods you’re choosing and why they’re important to the child’s health. Labeling foods can actually increase your child’s desire for these foods you seek to avoid when you’re not there to monitor your child. One study determined that children (especially daughters) tended to overeat restricted foods when given the opportunity. This is why it’s important to demonstrate a healthy attitude toward food while teaching your children to enjoy delicious foods in moderation.
A good rule of thumb is to teach your child to eat the rainbow. A plate filled with bright, naturally colored fruits and vegetables is a fun way to encourage even the pickiest eaters. Allow for experimenting in the kitchen with fresh, whole foods. Break out your blender or food processor to make healthy shakes packed with yogurt and fruit. Create pizzas from half-sections of zucchini topped with cheeses and more vegetables. If your child likes to dip, try making fresh hummus or salsa. Helping your child see that eating healthy is anything but boring, bland, and uninspiring will go a long way to changing their relationship with food. Getting the family in the kitchen also creates memories which can be the emotional link that helps create a lifetime of good eating habits.
You don’t have to perfect role model for healthy eating, but do your best to demonstrate good eating habits and your child will follow. One way is to always be sure that your child is getting enough vitamins and minerals. Age-appropriate nutritional supplements and vitamins are always available through our HFS Store.