Discuss healthy habits early and often

As the adults in charge, the messages we send to our children and the language we use to send them is very important for communicating positivity about healthy eating and physical activity. Because each person’s needs are different and family values vary, it is difficult to find a common script or message that works for everyone. However, a few overarching messages can fit for any family.

The Food Friends Foundation (www.foodfriends.org), a start-up nonprofit organization from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University, is engaged in the research, development, and distribution of nutrition and physical activity education programs to pre-school aged children.

Start conversations early

According to The Food Friends, preschool is when kids begin to develop lifelong habits—for better or worse. They state, “Eating and physical activity habits are established during the preschool years. Support from teachers and parents help children develop healthy habits that will have a positive, lifelong impact on their health.” Toddlers (3- to 5-year-olds), even the pickiest of eaters, ought to be encouraged to try new foods, be active regularly, and start learning about healthy habits and nutrition.

Focus on nutrition

Focus on the concepts of good nutrition and physical activity for feeling good and staying healthy. Avoid connecting eating well and staying active to losing weight or being thin(ner). For example, do not use statements like, "drinking water will keep you from becoming overweight." Water is good for everyone, not just those who want to lose weight.

Being active is fun

Being physically active is fun, makes you feel good, and gives you even more energy. Share stories about eating healthy and being active and avoid discussions that focus on losing weight. Try new activities and expose your children to various things until they find their “thing.” Not everyone likes the same things; if kids aren’t having fun getting exercise, try something else.

Avoid discussing dieting

Whenever possible, avoid talk about dieting—for both yourself or for your children. If you have a concern about your child's weight, speak with your pediatrician privately to discuss options.

Share facts

If a child asks you a question about nutrition to which you do not know the answer, answer truthfully, even if that means having to do some research first. Saying, “I don't know, but let’s find the answer,” is empowering. If your children are old enough to use the Internet, recommend they look for the answer themselves to encourage their inquiries.

Teach about food and ingredients

Be sure your kids know the basics about the food groups (vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains) and servings sizes. Even little kids can grasp the idea of needing to eat more vegetables than grains in any given meal or day. Ask them to point out the healthiest thing on their plate and tell you why. As they get older, encourage them to understand nutrition labels and read lists of ingredients. Older kids can practice by assisting in choosing the healthiest of a few options at the grocery store, or begin helping with meal planning.