Eat healthy- your kids are watching

A recent study by Sharon Hoerr has shown that parents that lead by example have children with healthier eating habits.

May 10, 2012

Adopting a healthy diet is one of the best ways to instill one in your children.

If lower income mothers want kids with healthy diets, it’s best to adopt healthy eating habits themselves and encourage their children to eat good foods rather than use force, rewards or punishments, said a Michigan State University (MSU) study.

The study, which appears in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is one of a few that focuses on the eating habits of low-income families. The results demonstrate that the mothers who led by example and persuaded -- rather than ordered -- their kids to eat their vegetables had kids with healthier diets, said MSU AgBioResearch scientist Sharon Hoerr.

“Mothers should stop forcing or restricting their kids’ eating,” said Hoerr, a professor of food science and human nutrition. “They’d be better off providing a healthy food environment, adopting balanced eating habits themselves and covertly controlling their children’s diet quality by bringing healthier food into the house.”

Overtly restricting certain foods from a child when others are eating them at mealtimes can lead to unhealthy eating, she added.

Additional parental tips include maintaining regular meal- and snack-times, offering smaller portions of healthy foods and allowing the children to decide how much they will eat.

And what about kids who’d rather play with their food or consume only junk food?

“With picky eaters, it’s best to coax and encourage them to eat rather than yell at them,” Hoerr said. “Other ways to get them interested in having a balanced diet include taking them to the grocery store or garden and helping them select new foods to taste and help cook at home.”

In continuing this research, Hoerr hopes to develop home-based and interactive educational materials for parents who want to encourage healthful eating.

Other MSU researchers contributing to this study are Megumi Murashima, doctoral student, and Stan Kaplowitz, sociologist.

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