Modelling Healthy Eating - Self- Awareness, Ownership and Change

modelling healthy eating

As parents, we kind of have this responsibility to practice what we preach. Or at least just preach what we practice. It's not just while they are looking; as you know, you will eventually get caught out. It happens; even to seasoned pro's. You see, your kids are hard wired to trust you. They watch you from a young age and think that what you are doing and saying is right, unless you give them very good reason to think otherwise.

What did you have modelled as normal?

We all started learning about food, eating/drinking (consumption) and the relationships we have with consumption, from home in our early years.  Where else did you learn that its ok to defrost meat on the bench for a full day. Or that watching TV whilst eating dinner is perfectly acceptable, every night of the week; as long as you are sitting at the dinner table. Or that eating chips on the couch, after dinner, each night while watching the box, is just what you do. Not a chip fan? Chocolate perhaps?

Peeling everything before you eat it; boiling all your vegetables; buttered white bread with each meal; mum dieting every 4 weeks so mum has a special diet and special food that no one else has. I am sure we can all think of things that we grew up with as normal. You turned out alright yea? Yea but how MIGHT you have turned out if people knew better?? Who will ever know hehe.

As we grow wiser (or perhaps just get older), we use life experience to work towards making our own decisions about the consumption choices we make available and modelling we want in our own families and households.  It is a must to think about.  You want to work with what you know to give your kids the best chance you can. 

So what kind of role model do you want to be?

A great start is always to question what you have learnt from your life experience. Don't take it for granted that it is the best and only way. You should question it (perhaps not openly in front of relatives you may insult, as apparently to some people, their way is the best and only way).  This is your privilege as a parent. We take what we can get (But please please please try to get the information you use to make decisions from a source that has some formal, specialized and relevant credentials, not, "I am celebrity and just cause I said so").

You are what you eat

The adage of you are what you eat is one of my mantra's.  How can we NOT want to know how to maximize our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual potentials? What you feed your body and the attitude you have about consumption plays a huge part in how you think, grow, feel and behave each and every day. Regular healthy eating with the right balance of macro and micro nutrients; regular hydration to think clearly and keep it all together. This is how we function!

But thinking too much about food, our unhealthy behaviours and obsessions around eating and body are things that are tipping points in either direction and hey, if your kids are watching its so not cool! Balance= incredibly important.  Sorting yourself out is vital in the role modelling to your kids.  They are the ones that lose out otherwise. It's hard to be perfect, not many of us can pull it off, hehe, and even we are not ever going to be perfect (note: far from perfect here). But we can give it a red hot go.

10 basic tips on modelling healthy consumption

  1. Don't label food or fluids as good and bad.

Food/fluids are not conspiring against you. They are to be enjoyed and/or keep you at your full potential. Some just happen to be more helpful more of the time. Others, not so helpful, but yummy, so we don't have them as much, but enjoy and appreciate them when we do.

So foods are "helpful and not helpful", or "occasional or every day". Just try to keep a mental track of how often you allow not helpful foods/fluids or just pick your day (s) of the week and stick to them.  When you do allow them, don't over indulge or binge as some people do. This is pretty unhealthy behavior and we don't need our kids seeing and/or doing it.

  1. Conscious eating. 

Sitting at the dinner table, with no distractions like TV, phones etc.. helps people to consciously eat. To focus on eating and only eating. "Eating on the run"; "in front of a screen"; "just because it's there"; this eating means you are slightly distracted from body cues like fullness, chewing correctly and volumes. You will consume extra kilojoules. In Dietetics, we refer to some people as 'under reporters', as they do so much unconscious/habitual eating, that when we ask for a recall of what they have had, they legitimately have no recall of it.

  1. Eating as a family at the table.

Eating with your kids is really important. We eat late a lot of nights in our house hold, but eating together is a priority; so eating late is ok for our routine.  Eating is a social thing and if you can encourage eating at the table together, with no other distractions like TV or phones/ipads etc..there are so many additional benefits to be had. You have a chance to actually TALK to one another! Crazy I know. Debrief on the day and model how eating brussel sprouts is really yummy.

  1. Finishing everything on your plate is only important when someone wants to eat something after dinner.

Otherwise, we just eat until we have had enough. (We have another article on helping with developing eaters). If your child is often hungry later and they haven't finished their dinner, make sure you save it in the fridge for them.

  1. Have foods readily available as snacks that are better choices.

Whole fruit, grainy crackers, low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, grainy bread and avocado.  Try to avoid snacks in individual wrappers/packaging.

  1. Drink ONLY water 99% of the time.

No juice, no soft drink, no energy drinks, no cordials!! Not even a dash. Your kids need to get used to drinking straight up water, no masking the taste and getting their taste buds used to something in their water. A cup or two a day of milk is ok,(on top of their water intake) low fat if your child is over 2 years of age, but only after meals or between meals as it can displace their appetite.

  1. What is good for you is good for them.

You can't be sitting drinking a diet shake while asking them to eat their pasta and broccoli. Just like you can't be eating chocolate while saying they can't (unless they haven't eaten their dinner).

  1. Avoid using food as rewards or punishment.

This is a consistent message from everyone. It is hard to avoid sometimes, but using it regularly is a big no no.

  1. Encourage hungry eating.

We really do want to learn to listen to our bodies, as they do have this really unique ability to tell us when you need fuel, which helps with weight and energy regulation. Another blog on this one later too.

  1. Be on the same page as other primary carers.

To model any positive behavior, you really do need to check in with yourself and the other models in your household.  No point you putting in the work to have someone else gorge at the kitchen bench and not eat dinner with the family. It introduces confusing contradictions.  If you can't change their behavior but want to put in the effort with your kids going solo, just let them know you will be using them as the example of what NOT to do and see how they feel.

We know it can feel quite complicated, but eating, food and fluids, really is a huge part of our lives in more ways than simply sustenance. We won't always get it right, but if you know you can make at least a few positive changes, please do give it a go.