Six commandments of healthy eating as a family
Our eating habits and food consumption have a big impact on our health, which is why parents are targets for healthy eating campaigns - not only for ourselves, but also for our children.
So how are children's eating habits developed? How much control do we really have other them?
A new review of research shows that as parents we can have a big influence on the food culture in our families - and it all begins in pregnancy.
Food in pregnancy
There is an increasing amount of research to show that the food we eat in pregnancy has an impact on our children's eating habits. When we regularly consume particular foods and flavours in pregnancy, our babies in utero are getting a taste for those same foods and flavours. Our kids are then more likely to enjoy those foods when they begin eating solids.
We select foods that make up our family diet
We shop for, prepare and cook the food for our family. We are the ones who decide what arrives on our children's plate. The more children are exposed to certain foods, the more likely they are to accept them into their diet. Children are more likely to be vegetable-eaters if there are lots of vegetables available in the home.
We role-model healthy eating
Our children are keen observers of the way we eat and what we eat. Every time we prepare a meal or eat vegetables or grab a quick snack, we are showing our children how to eat. They are watching what we choose to eat and how we choose to eat it.
We shape eating behaviours
Do you eat in front of the TV? Do you sit at the dinner table or propped up in the kitchen? Do children have to ask to leave the table? Do you have any rituals around eating, or do meal times just fit around busy schedules? These are all examples of how we set patterns of behavior around eating and sharing meals.
We set the amount of food
Many of us are guilty of over-eating at times, and we can also be inadvertently instilling over-eating habits in our children. Research has shown that if children are given too much food, they are more likely to eat too much food. That means that portion sizes are just as important for children as they are for adults.
We can set the boundaries
Research has shown that when parents set firm boundaries around food - that is, unhealthy foods are occasional treats, and they don't give in to their children's pestering - children grow up with healthier food habits. It's about being loving and responsive to our kids needs without allowing them to run the food show.
So how do we get our kids to eat their vegetables and grow up healthily? We eat healthy foods ourselves (beginning in pregnancy), we encourage family rituals around preparing healthy food and eating together, and we don't give in to the pester power!
Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and the founder of Parent Wellbeing. You can find more parenting inspiration at parentwellbeing.com.