Teach Kids Good Eating Habits With Each Meal
April 27, 2013

Teach Kids Good Eating Habits With Each Meal

Our eating habits as adults stem directly from what we experienced as a child. For instance, as I have explained before, my parents encouraged us to eat all that was on our plate. They would have the right portion sizes of each food category in order to ensure that we had a healthy diet. From this I learned to not waste food as well as to balance my meals. However, if I was not hungry, my parents never forced me to eat. They would have me eat a couple of bites of the protein and fruits and veggies, but that was more to ensure I had the proper nutrients in my system from my diet.

I believe their lesson of portion size, food variety, and listening to my body has helped me to stay healthy to this day. I am healthy. I have good blood pressure, pulse, and cholesterol levels. I am a healthy weight for my height. I eat balanced, healthy meals 99 percent of the time, and even when I am eating less healthy food (pizza is my Achilles heel), I still make sure to have plenty of veggies and fruits and grains. I also drink over 100 ounces of water every day. All of this I learned from my parents.

So where am I going with this? Well, CNN recently reported about how researchers looked at two studies and found that pushing kids to eat all that is on their plate may cause obesity later. They also found that denying foods—like keeping ice cream from children who do not eat all of their dinner—may cause obesity as well.

Let’s start with the how. Here’s what CNN said the investigators did: “…combined data from two separate research studies. The first, EAT 2010 (Eating and Activity in Teens), studied around 2,800 middle and high school students from public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Participants in the project responded to survey questionnaires designed to examine dietary intake and weight status…Researchers combined that data with information from the Project F-EAT (Families and Eating and Activity Among Teens), a study designed to examine factors within the family environment on weight in adolescents.”

Now, onto the what. According to the findings, 50-60 percent of parents from the sample required their children to eat all of the food on their plate regardless of whether the child was full or not. In fact, between 30-40 percent of the parents continued to encourage their children to eat even if they said they were full.

Furthermore, the researchers found that dads were more likely to pressure kids than moms. Adolescent boys felt more pressure to eat up than did adolescent girls. Finally, the data showed that parents restricted foods from their kids commonly. This latter act has been found to actually interest a child in that food more because they can’t have it. In fact, restricting a specific food often led to a child overeating it when given the opportunity.

What all of this said to me is that children learn their eating habits from parents. If parents demand a clean plate, then a child might learn to eat even when no longer hungry. If a parent uses food as incentive or punishment, then the child might overeat that particular food when he or she can because it was restricted.

However, if a parent teaches a child to listen to his or her body and stop eating when full, then the child learns the importance of eating only what he or she needs. A parent should also teach children about healthy food choices and balanced meals. These lessons go hand-in-hand with each other.

The CNN article ended with a reminder to parents that parents should eat healthy, well-balanced meals as a model for their children. To instill healthy eating habits, we must start with children. Right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that about 17 percent of all children and adolescents are obese. That is too high. We must teach them healthy habits today.

Image Credit: Sk Elena / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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