A while back, I shared some tips for encouraging children to eat healthy foods. Now there’s one more tip to add, courtesy of a new study, published in the journal Obesity: Smile while eating something you want your kids to eat.
Photos of people happily eating a child’s favorite food made them want it even more, while a photo of a person looking “disgusted” by that same food tended to make the children want it less. If a child disliked a certain food, seeing someone with a pleasant expression eating it made the child more open to trying that food.
These results build on a study published in late 2008 in Preventive Medicine suggesting that parents can increase the amount of fruits and vegetables their children eat simply by eating more themselves. For every extra serving of fruit or vegetable eaten by a parent, their child ate an extra half serving.
“We have always known that parents have a tremendous influence on what their children eat,” said Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH). “These two studies demonstrate that this influence extends from simply making fruits and vegetables available for their children, to modeling their own enjoyment of eating a healthy diet.”
Pivonka says that parents can shape their children’s eating habits and help them develop a healthy attitude toward food. “But, be careful not to send mixed signals. Don’t be the mom who insists that her kids eat breakfast and then skips the meal herself or the dad who tells his kids to eat all their vegetables and then won’t eat them himself.”
Some other pointers for modeling positive behavior from the PBH Foundation:
- Show kids how enjoyable healthy foods can be with comments like “Wow, that tastes good!” or “Look how colorful!”
- Be a good role model. Eat the way you want your child to eat. Choose a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups, eat in moderation and make exercise part of your regular routine.
- Don’t ban foods. Kids will encounter cookies, chips and other treats when they’re away from home. Allow them to explore, but at the same time teach them what their bodies need. The goal is to enjoy a varied healthy diet, which allows for occasional indulgences.
- Get kids in the kitchen. From an early age, involve children in preparing food. Children love being involved; they love feeling like they’re helping. If they feel they’re part of the process, they’re more likely to try the finished product.
For more tips on getting more fresh produce into your diet, do check out the PBH’s Fruits & Veggies – More Matters site. You’ll find a ton of excellent information there, including a database of over 1,000 recipes, many of which can be made in 30 minutes or less, videos about fruit and vegetable selection, storage and preparation, and tips for eating healthy on a budget.
Media materials from PBH were used in this article.