Mom has plenty on her plate these days, including the high-ranking job as
senior manager of her children's nutrition.
In most families, "mom buys the food that's in the house. Mom puts food
on the table. Mom has the pivotal role in what the kids eat," says Marilyn
Tanner-Blasier, RD, LD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic
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Dads influence their child's nutrition, too, and it's not just what's
cooking in the kitchen. Both parents set the pattern for the family's
lifestyle. If mom and dad are oatmeal-and-biking types, their kids likely are,
too. If parents are more the chips-and-TV type, that's where you'll find the
Your Child's Nutrition: You're the Role Model
In one large survey of kids under age 12, mom and dad ranked highest as
their children's nutrition role models -- the persons the kids most wanted to
be like, reports Tanner-Blasier. Nearly 70% of children reported they were
likely to talk with mom or dad about nutrition and their body size.
That survey -- conducted by the American Dietetic Association Foundation --
also picked up on the families' activity levels. Kids were more likely to eat a
meal or watch TV with a parent, rather than playing outside.
"If mom and dad spent most of their time sitting around watching TV,
leading an inactive lifestyle, kids did the same," says Tanner-Blasier, who
is also a pediatric dietitian at Washington University School of Medicine in
Trouble is, "many parents don't really think of themselves as role
models," says Ron Kleinman, MD, associate chief of pediatrics at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"Parents expect their kids to do things, like exercise, that they
themselves don't do," he tells WebMD. "You can't lie on the couch
watching TV, snacking on potato chips -- yet tell your child to go outside and
get some exercise. It just doesn't work that way."
How to Model Good Nutrition for Your Child
Any parent can be a good role model for children's nutrition. "Even if
you're overweight and having trouble losing it, it's still possible to role
model a healthy lifestyle for your child," Kleinman tells WebMD. Try these
tips at home:
Buy fruits and vegetables rather than snacks. "Studies show that
if parents emphasize how important these are in the diet, children will eat
them more often -- compared to parents who are more about relaxed it," says
Kleinman. "You don't want to be rigid about it, but you must
Pass along the basics of portion control. Kids also must learn to
stop eating -- what nutritionists call portion control. "In our
culture, we tend to lose sight of the feeling of fullness," Kleinman
explains. "The 'clean your plate' club overrides the natural cues a child
has to stop eating when they are full. It prompts them to eat when there is no
reason to eat."