As a parent, you want to instill healthy lifestyle habits in your children early on. Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D. suggests some great tips for helping yourself and your children to good health.
Moms encourage their children to finish their milk, eat their veggies, and stay away from too many cookies and chips.
If you’re a mother, it may seem like your admonitions to eat better fall on deaf ears, but research and personal experience say otherwise. As it turns out, mothers possess the power of persuasion in more ways than one, especially when it comes to influencing what their daughters eat.
My mother often jokes that my grandmother, who arrived in the U.S. from Italy at the age of 17, was the original dietitian in the family. “Nana” didn’t have all the scientific facts and figures about food that I often spout to my children, but she did have the right idea about preparing balanced meals. She passed that knowledge on to her daughter.
My mother worked full-time outside of the home, yet resisted the temptation to serve us processed foods for meals and snacks. She was raised on the idea that a balance of colors on the plate made for a healthier meal. In a way, she was right: brightly colored vegetables, such as carrots, contain different beneficial compounds than paler produce, such as mushrooms, yet both vegetables are equally good for you.
Don’t get me wrong: We didn’t eat perfectly. My family’s love of bread and desserts (my brothers, parents, and I often overate), created weight control challenges for all of us.
While my mother struggled with her weight, she never strayed from serving healthy, balanced meals. That’s noteworthy, since moms who constantly diet influence their daughters to think about dieting, possibly leading to disordered eating.
As the mother of three girls, I can see how strongly daughters identify with their moms, and how actions speak louder than words. I’m like my mother in that I am nearly militant about family meals. We eat together as often as possible.
The meal may be as simple as take-out pizza, salad, and fruit. That’s okay, because family meals need not be elaborate to be effective: Studies show that the more often you eat together, the greater the chance of consuming fruits and vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods, such as milk, and fewer soft drinks.
Being a mom is no small feat. You serve as a role model for healthy eating and an active, healthy lifestyle, and you support your child in doing the same. Mothering can be exhausting, but it’s important to remember you don’t need to feed your family perfectly every day. Do the best you can and you’ll be paying it forward by passing on the healthiest lifestyle possible to your children, and beyond.
Here are tips for helping yourself and your child to good health:
- Eat the healthy foods and drink the beverages (water, low-fat milk, and 100% juices) that you want your children to consume. For example, research shows a mom’s own milk drinking habit is linked to more milk and fewer sugary drinks in her child’s diet.
- Make every effort to have family meals at home and serve as a healthy role model. Keep those meals full of enjoyment and free of criticism.
- Exercise together (take a walk, bike ride or do yard work) and exercise independently to serve as active role models.
- Avoid pressure or restrictive feeding practices at mealtime. Pressuring, cajoling, and threatening will not get kids to favor healthier foods in the long run, and the opposite may occur.
- Engage in healthy lifestyle changes to address a healthy weight, rather than restrictive, unhealthy diets.
How do you encourage your children to lead a healthy lifestyle?