The implications of healthy eating on our children's lives are far reaching. Diet plays a vital role in their health, growth and development. Instilling healthy life choices in our children from a young age increases their chances of maintaining a healthy and balanced life as adults.
There is so much that we can do in the home by way of educating, guiding and supporting, that will give our children the tools they need to make the right choices for themselves throughout their lives.
- Lead by example
Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a family and children's clinical psychologist, believes that developing food habits in kids that are both mentally and physically healthy requires involvement from parents. To help their kids develop a sense of body acceptance and a body-positive self-image, she said parents need to role model good attitudes about their own and others' bodies, healthy eating habits of their own, and a positive attitude towards food.
- Use the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating to help guide - factoring in the following guidelines:
- To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five groups every day, see attachment.
- Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
- Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
- Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
These recommendations are designed to assist in making the right choices for life. There is little point in making choices that are unsustainable - finding a balance and a diet that fits in with your family's lifestyle is imperative if you’re looking to develop long-term habits.
- Involve your children in food shopping and meal preparation
Whose child doesn't like to cruise down the supermarket aisles in the shopping cart? Whilst you may not always have the time to make the trip to the grocery store a family expedition, on occasion it can be of value. Food shopping with the family can provide insight into each family member's food preferences, as well as an opportunity to educate the kids on food nutrition and link it back to what they have learned from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommendations.
Cooking with your kids has a surprising number of benefits, including maths, reading and nutrition. Oh, and coming home to a surprise meal cooked by your kids after a long day at work wouldn’t be so bad either!
- Educate your children
As mentioned above, it’s important to educate your kids on food nutrition and the important role that it plays on their health, growth and development. Rather than telling them to have an apple instead of a block of chocolate, educate them on why an apple is a better choice, and why chocolate is better left for special occasions. Why not help them to understand macronutrients, or how to read and understand a food label, or even the importance of water and hydration?
How can we expect our children to make the right choices if we haven’t spent the time educating them on the what, why and how?
- Guide food choices rather than dictate
If you’ve heard of the Food Police, you probably understand the implications of excessively restricting certain food items from your child's reach. Mealtime becomes a battleground which may be tense and unhappy. Kids won’t learn to listen to their own hunger cues when forced to eat foods that they don’t like, which can lead to overeating, a habit often carried through to adulthood. Food restriction can often lead to binge eating those foods that kids aren’t allowed. Consuming unhealthy food on special or rare occasions is not harmful, in fact you might even find it to be a good thing. Like most things in life, moderation is key.
- Raise good decision makers
According to mental health counselor Laura JJ Dessauer, not letting your child make decisions can turn them into codependent adults. "As they grow older they are likely to seek out relationships in which someone else has all the power and control," says Dessauer.
It’s important to provide them with support and guidance, and lead them to making the right choices. This doesn’t mean that you give them infinite choice and freedom, most people (let alone kids) will become paralysed and flounder with too much choice - as is evident in the concept of choice paralysis. For younger kids, provide a few options for them to choose between and as they get older, increase the number of choices available to them.
There comes a point in life where we have to set our children free and we can only hope that at that point - they’re ready to take on the world on their own. For the first decade and a half of their lives, we focus on supporting, guiding and educating them on making the right decisions for themselves that will stand them in good stead for the years to come. There is no single recipe for raising successful children but there are in fact some key themes worth remembering; spend time with them, let them make their own decisions, and maintain a happy family.