Youth mirror their parents when it comes to learning how to eat. If, as a parent, your diet is less than ideal, then chances are your child will grow up making the same poor choices when it comes to food.
My neighbors, Kathy and Chris, have long understood this. Both are working attorneys, but over the years, they found time to make meals a top priority for the entire family. As a result, their four children learned how to prepare a food list and a week’s worth of menus, cook nutritious meals, and the importance of making meal a time for family. Now grown, the children are lean, healthy, successful adults who are living the values of good nutrition, good health, and family togetherness.
Cooking, eating healthy food, and family togetherness are topics that I often discuss with my patients. Why? Because I know the impact that unhealthy eating is going to have on future generations. Kids and teens are being raised in environments that promote poor health. Every day, they are bombarded by ads for foods that are loaded with sugar and lacking in nutrition. Many have closely regimented schedules that don’t include time for a healthy meal. Others are left to their own devices far too often and without guidance on how to eat healthy.
Teens, who often struggle with body image, may be especially impacted by a poor relationship with food.
Here are some ways to helps your offspring have a better relationship with food for the long-term:
Start with breakfast. Mornings can be hectic, but that’s no excuse for skipping breakfast. Take time on Sunday to determine the daily breakfast to save time during the week. Eggs, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, or yogurt are easy choices during the school week. Kathy and Chris’ kids especially liked “eggs McFenelon,” an egg-and-meat sandwich on half an English muffin.
Get back to the basics. Make the evening meal a family gathering to create a sense of structure and accountability. The catchphrase “Dinner’s at six,” can become a dinner bell, of sorts, to bring everyone together at a set time. If that’s unrealistic with everyone’s schedule, then try to have a family meal night once a week, ideally the same night each week. Even one meal a week together is a great way to build good memories to last a lifetime.
Teach teens to cook. In fact, start helping your children get comfortable in the kitchen at an earlier age. In addition to gaining needed life skills, preparing the family meal can help youngsters gain a greater sense of self-esteem and responsibility—for themselves and others.
Make smart food choices. By helping your child’s palate become more accustomed to fresh foods over processed ones, you’ll help them learn more about good nutrition while avoiding the addictive nature of foods with excess sugar, salt, artificial flavors, and preservatives.
Watch your mouth! Check yourself when it comes to your own relationship with food. If you are constantly referring to food choices as “bad,” then your children may learn to feel guilty when they eat certain foods. They may even view those foods as forbidden fruit, so to speak, something to be eaten as a form of rebellion. And if you’re someone who is always dieting, your children will grow up understanding the word “diet” in a negative context, instead of it referring to the sustenance that leads to a healthy life.
The bottom line is that you must lead by example when it comes to teaching your kids to have a healthy relationship with food. Cook healthy foods, create structured meals, eat to nourish your body, and love your body for what it is—and your children will learn do the same.
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