By Erin Heidenreich, Keene State College Dietetic Intern
Our environment has a big impact on many of our habits. Fostering a healthy environment at home begins by establishing nutritious habits and a healthy mindset with your child. This is an important step in preparing your child for long-term success.
As parents and guardians, there are two main roles you play in your child’s health and eating habits. First, providing healthy food options; second, modeling good behaviors through your own actions.
Providing Healthy Food Options
Exposing children to healthy and whole foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — is a great first step. A recent study by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that the biggest factor in what a child ate was based on the food groups most accessible to them. As parents, we do not always have control over what our child eats at each meal and snack
when away from home. But, we can set up an at-home environment that encourages good options! Guide your child by making the healthy choice the easy choice. It is your role to provide the healthier options, but allow your child to choose what and how much they want to eat. Researchers found that children who were provided healthy options at home but were not pressured to eat them, had a lower body mass index (BMI).
“I have the best luck getting my kids to eat healthy snacks when I have them already made,” said Ashley Robarge, a local mom of two young boys. “Prepping things on Sunday helps me have the good stuff ready, so it’s a no brainer.”
Tips to Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice
- Stock the refrigerator and pantry with healthy food — this provides your children with nutritious options at all times.
- Pre-chop fruits and vegetables to make them more accessible and easy to grab for a snack.
- Purchase produce such as baby carrots, grapes, tangerines, bananas, and sugar snap peas … these are all naturally-packaged for snacking.
- Keep the healthier options — such as yogurt, nuts, whole-grain crackers and produce — at the front of the fridge and pantry.
- Keep sugary treats out of sight to alleviate temptation.
Modeling Good Eating Habits
Another role that parents can play is to create an environment where you model good food behaviors for your child.
A recent study looked at the relationship between home environments and a child’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. The researchers found that children who spent mealtimes eating with family had healthier eating habits and consumed more fruit and vegetables. This shows one important link between sitting down at the table for established mealtimes and a child’s eating habits.
Tips to Modeling Good Food Habits
- Sit together for meals as a family. This provides a great opportunity for you to model healthy behaviors.
- Eat slowly. Demonstrate eating mindfully by enjoying each bite and talking throughout the meal.
- Try new recipes. Together, you and your family can try new healthy foods and recipes. Demonstrating your willingness to continue trying new foods sets a great example and encourages your children to do the same. If you or your child is not fond of a food item, stay positive and remember it takes many exposures to develop the taste for new foods.
Remember, making small changes in your home by providing healthy food choices and modeling good eating habits can have a positive and long-lasting impact on your family’s health!