Its almost time to start worrying again about what to put in your kids’ lumch boxes. But while your at the grocery store loading up on the snacks and drinks, your biggest challenge won’t be getting it all in your car. It will be how to get your kids to eat the healthy stuff you pack in their lunch and skipping a trip to the school vending machines.
Many preteens and teenagers typically have unhealthy eating habits–some gravitate toward high-fat and sugary junk food, while others become restrictive , cutting calories and forgoing foods, such as meat or dairy. Experts now suggest that both kinds of eating behaviors can lead to overweight and obesity.
So what can parents do?
Encourage healthy eating habits and a positive self image, which starts by fostering the same behavior and attitude in yourself. Here’s how you can help:
Be a Good Role Model
Do you have a healthy body image? “Children learn what to value and how to value their bodies from the role models they see around them. If parents are constantly putting down their own bodies, then kids will do the same,” says Rachel Keaschuk, a psychologist with the Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health in Edmonton, Alberta.
Talk Up Physical Activity
Focus on the benefits of exercise, including more energy, better focus (kids who are more physically active tend to do better academically), improved mood and higher self esteem.
Don’t Narrate, Participate
Don’t sit on the sidelines with a cup of coffee–try kicking around the soccer ball with your kids. “Rolemodel that healthy eating and active living are important. Make it a priority as a parent and children will emulate that, ” says Keaschuk.
Creating Healthy Home Environment
Stock whole-grain crackers, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables instead of cookies and chips. Limit TV and computer time. Make physical activity a norm–like a family walk or bike ride or hike.
Eating together More Often
People may take it for granted, but family meals definitely promote healthy eating. “Our research consistently shows that there are far better dietary outcomes and fewer eating-related behaviors,” explains Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, author of I’m Like, So Fat! Besides, she elaborates, when you eat together, you can promote healthy choices and spot unhealthy eating behaviors.
Making Healthy Living a Family Affair
“Encourage healthy eating and active living for all family member, regardless of weight status,” says Keaschuk. “Everyone, regardless of weight, can make changes to be healthier and benefit from these changes.”