Healthy Habits Equal Healthy Living Habit formation is the key to eating healthy. In the same manner that your daughter watches her favorite TV shows each night, she will form habitual patterns of consumption derived from her immediate surroundings. Food choice for children is a direct result of interactions with family, peers, school, and community.
Family meals tend to be associated with healthier diets, if a child’s family has few meals together; they are more likely to eat unhealthy foods. Guide your family’s choices rather than dictate foods. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available in the house. This practice will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices.
Eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Try to make mealtimes pleasant with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding or arguing. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress. Involve your children in food shopping and preparing meals. These activities will give you hints about your children’s food preferences, an opportunity to teach your children about nutrition, and provide your kids with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help prepare. Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV. Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness, and may lead to overeating. In addition, it is estimated that just over one billion dollars is spent on media advertising toward children, primarily on TV. The primary message in these advertisements is to buy unhealthy, inexpensive processed foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar.
Try not to use food to punish or reward your children. Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. Similarly, when foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.
A child’s peers are likely to influence their food choice, whether this appears through conformity due to common practice, or peer-pressure. If all of a child’s friends eat Oreos, they are likely to eat Oreos when spending time with them, as well as be pressured to eat Oreos in a friend’s presence. This habit of eating with friends as a form of social interaction proves to create a positive association with eating and in particular a preference in food product. In an effort to combat this association, provide healthy alternatives for your child and his peers like orange slices or apples and peanut butter. Giving them a choice is key; it is in choosing to eat healthy that a child forms positive eating habits.
Schools have a major impact on children’s food choice; children spend an increased time away from home in schools, where they eat one to two meals a day, breakfast and lunch. Schools have commercial contracts with various companies that provide branded vending machines at an easy convenience for students. Many of the competitive foods sold in cafeterias, school stores and fundraisers are typically high in calories and low in nutritional value. A child’s preference for food is influenced when the only option is an unhealthy one. Packed lunches are a healthy and cheaper way to feed your child.
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