Role Modeling Healthy Habits
Posted , updated Jun 16, 2005.
Young children learn through imitation. They love to copy what we do and say. Often we are unaware of all that they are learning from us until we hear them say, or see them do, the very things we have said or done. What we do can mean more than what we say.
The National Center for Health Statistics links health problems in children to the following factors that parents can influence:
- Decreased physical activity and increased television time
- Increased intake of fruit juices and sweetened drinks
- Poor food choices (low fruits/vegetables, high fats/sugars/salts)
- Poor eating behaviors (using food as reward, forcing children to eat or giving attention to children who don’t eat)
Your child learns from you about how and what to eat
The amount and type of foods you eat give your child an example of what is normal and healthy. Results from one study suggest that by simply drinking milk and making it available in the home, mothers can increase the amount of calcium their child consumes. Yet pressuring your child to drink milk may discourage intake.
You provide opportunities to set an example as you involve children in planning menus, shopping for groceries, setting the table, preparing meals, eating together, and cleaning up afterwards.
Consider these role modeling tips:
- Eat meals with your children whenever possible.
- Eat lots of dark green leafy vegetables, deep yellow vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Offer a new food several times. Let your child see you enjoy it.
- Try new ways of preparing foods with your child. He is more likely to eat foods he has helped prepare. Teach her to wash hands using soap and water before and after food preparation.
- Young children can learn to help as they are taught and shown by you to tear lettuce, wash greens, mash bananas with spoon, dump and stir ingredients, count out napkins, etc.
- Create new snacks and encourage your child to invent new ones from healthy ingredients you provide.
- At the store, ask your child to choose a new vegetable or fruit from 2 or 3 choices.
- When eating, ask questions like:
- Why does this taste so good?
- Is it chewy or crunchy; sweet, spicy or sour; juicy or dry?
- What kind of food is it? (meat, milk, grain, fruit, vegetable)
- Regularly make time for walking, biking, running and actively playing with your child.
You play a major role in providing opportunities for your child to learn healthy habits that last a lifetime.
Source: USDA, Center for Nutrition Policy, March 1999.