As parents we have to say “no” a lot. It’s a hard thing to do and even harder when you don’t exactly practice what you preach. This is often the case with food and exercise habits. We don’t tell our kids “no” to that second candy bar, maybe because we’re too tired or too distracted or too busy, but also possibly because we might want a second one ourselves! Similarly, in the case of exercise, it can be challenging to encourage our children to engage in it, if it isn’t a part of our own daily routines.
Ultimately though, it is our responsibility as parents to educate our children about the benefits of healthy diet and exercise, encourage healthy behaviors, and help our children form good habits that they will hopefully maintain for life. It is a challenge, but we should consider it one just as important as teaching our kids to brush and floss, to look both ways when crossing the street, and to wear their seatbelts.
One important first step is simply to talk to your children about nutrition. There are great videos and even games on the internet that can be helpful to get you started. Share what you know (even if it’s just the basics) with your kids and educate yourselves about nutrition together. Talking about food groups, portion sizes, and how food affects our bodies provides a foundation of knowledge that will be helpful when those moments arise when you have to say “no” to something unhealthy. It should be less about “rules” and more about awareness.
Instead of using sugary treats as a tool to placate an unhappy child or as a reward for good behavior (all of us have done it!) teach your kids to consider these foods as a once-in-a-while treat. Emphasize that cookies, ice cream, potato chips and the like are OK for our bodies to have only every now and then, but not good for our health if we eat them too often or in large amounts. The next time you need a bargaining chip with your child or you want to reward him or her, offer a fun activity, a book, or a play date with friends instead of food. Doing so will help your child form a healthier relationship with food.
Leading by example and involving your children in the process of shopping for, preparing, and serving meals are other ways to make healthful eating behaviors not only second nature, but also fun. Search for recipes together online or in magazines and ask your kids to help you plan weekly meals, or let your kids pick out their favorite (healthy!) foods at the store. Show your kids that nutritious can be delicious through your enthusiasm and your own healthy eating habits.