Parents Help Shape Food Attitudes

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Girl holding plate; UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic Shares How Parents Help Shape Food AttitudesMADISON – If you've ever found yourself wishing your child would eat more vegetables, you may have to look at what's on your own dinner plate.

"It's important to eat the way you want your child to eat," said Amy Mihm, clinical nutritionist with UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic. "If you're frustrated that your child isn't eating veggies, you may need to start by looking at your own attitude towards them."
Parents Play a Key Role

Parents play a key role in shaping kids' attitudes towards food. When a parent avoids vegetables, or frequently makes negative comments about dark, leafy greens, children quickly learn that vegetables aren't something to be enjoyed. The type of food that is generally available in the home also makes a big difference.

Mihm points out that the person responsible for the grocery shopping tends to be the "nutrition gatekeeper." They are responsible for the type of food coming into the home and going into meals and what is available for kids to eat.

"If you go and buy cookies or cupcakes," commented Mihm, "you shouldn't be upset if the child eats them. Given the choice between cookies and an apple, most kids would probably go for the cookies."

Helping Kids Make Healthy Choices
One way to help kids make healthier choices, and develop a positive relationship with food, is to involve them in the grocery shopping and meal preparation. Not only does it help empower them and create a certain amount of responsibility, but it opens the door to a wider variety of foods. If a child sees only what is in your refrigerator or pantry, he may not realize all of the nutritious choices available.

And helping kids make those healthier choices extends beyond the walls of their own home. It's a community's responsibility as well.

"Parents need to ensure that the place where their child is living is a healthy place," Mihm said. "Thinking about what they eat at school, at friends' houses, at grandparents' homes – it's important for everyone to work together to have positive influences on our children."

Encouraging a Positive Relationship
Helping a child make healthy choices in and outside of the home isn't necessarily about telling grandma not to make her special cookies. It's really about teaching a child to eat only when they're hungry, encouraging them to be active, packing lunches for school. And, letting them eat one of grandma's cookies.

"It's important that children develop a positive attitude towards food. They need to learn to be in tune with their own bodies. Even sweets are okay as a special treat," explained Mihm.

For those parents who may not have the healthiest food habits, Mihm encourages them to make small steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

"Parents are the ultimate role models, and they can make a tremendous difference in their child's life," she said.

One approach to introducing more vegetables is to begin with a family meal and introduce one new food at the table for everyone to try. It could be salad, or a new vegetable. Eating becomes an adventure when everyone tries something new. And integrating it with the family meal takes the pressure off the child. It may even encourage a child to be more open and interested in a variety of foods.

"Trying a new food together as a family shows the child that it's okay to try new foods and more importantly, that the whole family gets to be a part of the experience. Everyone focuses on healthy behaviors," Mihm concluded, "and that is an incredibly positive message for the child to experience."

Date Published: 06/19/2008

News tag(s):  pediatric fitnesschild nutritionchildrens

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