Parents are Role Models for their Children
Parents play a big role in shaping children’s eating habits. When parents eat a variety of foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, children learn to like these foods as well. It may take 10 or more tries before a child accepts a new food, so do not give up if your child does not like a new food right away.
Parents have an effect on children’s physical activity habits as well. You can set a good example by going for a walk or bike ride after dinner instead of watching TV. Playing ball or jumping rope with your children shows them that being active is fun.
With many parents working outside the home, child care providers also help shape children’s eating and activity habits. Make sure your child care provider offers well-balanced meals and snacks, as well as plenty of active play time.
If your child is in school, find out more about the school’s breakfast and lunch programs and ask to have input into menu choices, or help your child pack a lunch that includes a variety of foods. Get involved in the parent-teacher association — PTA — to support physical education and after-school sports.
Your child’s friends and the media can also affect his or her eating and activity choices. Children may go to fast food places or play video games with their friends instead of playing tag, basketball, or other active games. TV commercials try to persuade kids to choose high-fat snacks and high-sugar drinks and cereals. When parents help their children be aware of peer and media pressures, youngsters are more likely to make healthy choices outside the home.
Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. Milk and milk products are great sources of calcium. If your child cannot digest milk or if you choose not to serve milk products, there are other ways to make sure he or she gets enough calcium.
- Serve calcium-rich vegetables like broccoli, mustard greens, kale, collard greens, and brussels sprouts.
- Include high-calcium beans like great northern beans, black turtle beans, navy beans, and baked beans in casseroles and salads.
- Try calcium-enriched soy- and rice-based drinks. Serve chilled, use in place of cow’s milk in your favorite recipes, or add to hot or cold cereals.
- Serve lactose-reduced or lactose-free dairy products like low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and ice cream. (Lactose is the sugar in milk and foods made with milk. People who cannot digest lactose often have stomach pain and bloating when they drink milk.)
- Try low-fat yogurt or cheese in small amounts — which may be easier to digest than milk.
- Give your child a snack or two in addition to his or her three daily meals.
- Offer your child a wide variety of foods, such as grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat or beans.
- Serve snacks like dried fruit, low-fat yogurt, and air-popped popcorn.
- Let your child decide whether and how much to eat. Keep serving new foods even if your child does not eat them at first.
- Cook with less fat when you bake, roast, or poach foods instead of frying.
- Choose and prepare foods with less salt. Keep the salt shaker off the table. Have fruits and vegetables on hand for snacks instead of salty snack foods.
- Have family meals together and serve everyone the same thing.
- Do not be too strict. In small amounts, sweets or food from fast-food restaurants can still have a place in a healthy diet.
- Make sure your child eats breakfast. Breakfast provides children with the energy they need to listen and learn in school.
Children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight adults. They may develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other illnesses that can follow them into adulthood. Overweight in children can also lead to stress, sadness, and low self-esteem.
Because children grow at different rates at different times, it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. For example, it is normal for boys to have a growth spurt in weight and catch up in height later. Your health care provider can measure your child’s height and weight and tell you if your child is in a healthy range for his or her gender and age. If your provider finds that your child is overweight, you can help.