How to Model Good Eating Habits for Your Kids

altWaging the ongoing battle of trying to stay healthy and maintain, gain or lose weight, has a direct correlation with the simple equation of kilojoules taken in, versus kilojoules burned.

Okay, so I know I’m oversimplifying things here a little bit by making this statement, and I’ll never claim to be an expert on this subject, however, one thing I know for sure is that obesity in still on the rise in Australia. The numbers of obese Australians is growing, and worse yet, childhood obesity is also rampant in our country.

So if you want to pick a place to begin to turn the tide on this negative obesity trend, the best opportunity for instilling lifelong healthy eating habits is to teach them at home, beginning in early childhood. If kids can both learn and establish healthy eating habits early in life, the odds are much better that they’ll be able to carry those healthy eating habits seamlessly over into their adult lives.

Here are a few ideas to help get you and your family get started establishing a solid foundation of good eating habits.

Teach Your Kids How to Recognise Portions

This statement might almost sound stupid on the surface, but it seems that what constitutes a “portion” has been distorted to the point that we can no longer comprehend what an individual serving looks like. And to worsen this problem even further, the portions that are being served to us in restaurants, and particularly when we’re faced with eating at a buffet-style bar, serve to further these already distorted misconceptions. 

I know from my own experience that I’ve eaten at restaurants where the amount of food served to me literally amounted to enough kilojoules for 2 or almost 3 meals! If the restaurant you’re eating at doesn’t list the kilojoules and nutritional information on their menu, it can be really tough to gauge how much you’re eating. I’m a visual learner, so I found this “What does 200 Calories Look Like” video to be an invaluable tool for helping almost anyone better understand what appropriate serving portions consist of and look like.

Keep Junk Food out of Your Home

This rule is the simplest one of all. If you can manage the willpower to keep junk food out of your shopping cart, you probably also just helped you and your family from keeping empty kilojoules out of their mouths. Try to get in the habit of doing your grocery shopping a times when you’re NOT hungry, because if you’re starving while you’re food shopping, your chances of going home with that super-sized bag of corn chips is much greater.

Prepare & Eat Family Meals Together

With the fast pace of today’s lifestyle and varying schedules, it can be really difficult to try to get everyone together for a meal. So do the best you can and try to pick a reasonable goal for sharing meals together that suits your family’s lifestyle as best you can. It could be a fun family tradition to take time on the weekends to help your kids select recipes they want to help prepare during the week. Planning the grocery shopping list or doing the marketing along with your kids will also help give them a greater appreciation for healthful foods and  to learn about food budgeting too.

Make Healthy & Fresh Snacks Readily Available

Get in the habit of preparing fresh & healthy snacks like celery sticks, carrot sticks, dehydrated apple slices, etc and store them in clear zip lock bags, so when you and your family open up the refrigerator door, these will be the first snacks you reach for. And if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to prep things yourself, many of these items are now available, already prepared, in the produce section of the supermarket. Try to limit the amount of sugary snacks and sweet baked goods that you make or bring into your home. The food industry is well aware of our addiction to sugar, and they play off it by getting us hooked on sugar-laden processed foods. Make it a point to read all food labels carefully, so that you’re aware of how much sugar is contained in things you might not expect to find it in.

Model Living an Active Lifestyle

Kids learn the most by our example, so if they see their parents choosing to live an active and healthy lifestyle, chances are they will choose to live that way too.  Too many parts of our days are already spent sitting in a chair or being sedentary and with the internet now being such an integral part of our lives, that hasn’t helped us much with our already sedentary lifestyle. Encourage and initiate family activities like riding bikes, walking, racquet sports, swimming, volleyball, etc.  It really doesn’t require hours of physical activity to do yourself and your family a world of good. Getting in a 15 minute walk or bike ride can be enough to get your muscles working and your blood pumping. And the social aspects that often go hand in hand with sports and activities will also yield your kids tremendous benefits too.

Don’t Use Food as a Reward

And last, but not least, never use food as a way to reward or punish your kids. Teaching kids to eat all of their meal, by then “rewarding” them with a sugary treat at the end of a nutritious meal, only works to unravel the basic foundations of learning proper nutrition that you’ve worked so hard to put into place.  Aside from sending them an unhealthy psychological message, we do our family a real disservice by encouraging them to eat empty calorie laden or sugary foods, as a reward for accomplishing something. Once we’ve set poor learned association behaviours like these into place, we could then spend a lifetime trying to rid ourselves of these unhealthy food patterns.

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Image: Getty