Everyone wants to be healthier. Whether it comes in the form of exercising more, drinking more water, or eating better, as we grow up, we become more aware of the impacts of our habits on our lives. At some point, you find yourself wishing someone had told you how to develop healthy behaviors into habits as a child, so that you could continue to reap the benefits. It is much harder, after all, to teach an old dog new tricks. But grown ups have a unique ability to influence their children. Instead of making the same missteps your parents did, consider equipping your child with healthy habits now, so they can have an effortlessly healthy life as they age.
Demonstrate Desired Behavior
As parents, adults have an incredible influence on their children. The habits kids see you demonstrate are the ones they are most likely to pick up. When you find yourself reaching for a snack, ask yourself two questions:
Would I want my kid to eat this now?
Would I want my kid to eat this in 30 years?
If you are considering junk food, the answer is most likely “no.” When children watch us go about our lives, they are mentally taking notes. They absorb the message that this is what life is supposed to look like, good or bad. By thoughtfully maneuvering the messages we show them, we can help them develop healthy habits all by themselves. Instead of chips, munch on carrots and hummus. In the process of teaching your child how to practice healthy eating habits on a regular basis, you may end up greatly improving your own life.
Include Children in the Process
When you are growing up, there is a lot that is hard to understand. I remember being completely lost whenever we got in the car, because no one ever taught me which roads went where. It was not until I started to drive myself that I got the hang of navigation. Some children have that experience with food. If their parents never teach them about nutrition and meal prep, they go into life completely unprepared to make educated decisions about what is helpful and what is harmful to their wellbeing. One of the best (and easiest) things you can do to help your child develop healthy eating into a regular routine is by taking them along with you. Children love grocery stores, so take the opportunity to show them what the options are, and what you choose for them. Make it as simple as possible. “This brand uses too much sugar, so we buy this better brand.” Teach them how you prepare food, and how much you serve to your family. Those memories will influence your child much later in life.
Never Restrict or Dictate a Diet
A detrimental mistake that many grown ups remember from their parents is manipulating their relationship with food as a punishment. In some houses, there are no sugary snacks, but in some, there is no sugar allowed, and being caught in the act will warrant punitive measures. In “Parental Guidance,” a movie starring Marisa Tomei as a restrictive mom, there is one great scene where her daughter finds an ice cream cake. Betrayed, she looks at her mom and says “Mom, you lied to me! Yogurt is not like ice cream!” In the movie, it was a funny moment, but for many people, a parent controlled diet is harmful to their own relationship with food. While it is true that most Americans eat around three times the recommended daily intake of sugar, it is an important part of the balance of a healthy diet. This does not just work on the restrictive side. For parents who use sweets as a reward – who remembers hearing that they could have dessert when they finished their vegetables? – they actually send the wrong message about vegetables. Using food as a reward teaches children that some foods have a higher value than others, and leaves no room for preference or opinion.
Raising kids is hard. It puts a microscope on your life and harmless habits, and you become a teacher 24/7. While there is no set of rules on how to teach a kid how to eat properly, everyone gets the opportunity to do their best. These guidelines can help direct you around some dos and don’ts of raising a healthy eater, and raise your awareness of the impact of your actions on your kids’ lives.