How Modeling Healthy Eating Habits Helps Combat Childhood Obesity

People generally are not thankful for food allergies. I know I wasn’t when I discovered I was allergic to gluten, dairy, soy, and a variety of other foods that represent all the “fun” food groups.I’ve had to go on a restrictive diet, which isn’t much fun, however, I’ve learned several important lessons as a result.

In the past breakfast was usually consisted of whatever was quick and available. Now, I make a healthy smoothie for breakfast each morning. My seven-year-old son Mason, who is my most observant child, sees me making these smoothies each morning. One day, he asked if he could have a smoothie of his own, so I hooked him up with an almond milk, frozen blueberry, banana, and frozen spinach smoothie! He loved it and so did I because it’s an incredible way to hide all sorts of green things in his diet.

Guess what happened next? The rest of my kids also started asking for smoothies in the morning. They don’t have smoothies every day, and they certainly get their share of chocolate chip pancakes and donuts from the grandparents, but overall I was able to shape my kids’ diets by allowing them to catch the positive behavior from my diet.

As a parent, helping our children grow up healthy is one of our biggest responsibilities. We must help them develop healthy eating habits. A great way to do that is by modeling those behaviors in our own diet, just like I did with the breakfast smoothies.

Talking about a modeling a healthy diet for your children may not seem like the most important topic in our society today, but the data is behind it’s important is enough to make any parent stand up and take notice.

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Why is it so imperative we begin allowing our children to catch us in the act of a healthy diet? Because childhood obesity is running rampant in this country. According to the CDC, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015–2016 show that nearly one in five school-age children and young adults (6–19 years old) in the U.S. has obesity.

Let me be blunt: this is unacceptable! If you look at the rate of childhood obesity and the overall health of our children, it starts with the example we’re setting for them in our microwavable, fast-food, couch-potato society. We must model behaviors we desire in our children if we want to keep them from serious health problems later in life.

However, the statistics tell us this is becoming a smaller priority for most parents.

The CDC also found in its study of weight gain among adults in the U.S. from 1999–2016 that the average male now weighs 197.9 pounds compared to 189.4, 20 years ago. The average female weight has gone from 163.8 to 170.6, while the average waistline has expanded from 38.8 to 40.3, and 36.3 to 38.7, respectively.

Children Learn by Watching What You Do

Our kids are learning how to eat by watching what we eat and paying the price for it. If you don’t believe me, imagine the following two scenarios and tell me which one has the better chance of establishing a healthy child who grows into a healthy adult.

Scenario 1: After a long day of work, a dad comes home, eats processed food for dinner, watches television for a couple of hours, and cracks open a few beers.

Scenario 2: After exercising early in the morning and a long day of work, a dad comes home, sits down to a healthy dinner of a lean meat, fresh green vegetables, and fresh fruit, engages in conversation and then reads books with his children and independently for a few hours while drinking water.

Your kids will catch the behaviors you most often engage in, and diet and exercise are two of the most important behaviors they will model after you.

Easy Changes You Can Make

Here are a few changes we’ve made to help our children develop healthy eating habits. We’ve cut out 95 percent of processed foods and have removed artificial colorings from our children’s diet. Why remove artificial coloring? Because studies have proven the negative effects of artificial colorings on children’s mood and behavior, specifically some of the red, yellow, and blue dyes that are in many foods.

I’ve done my own double-blind, placebo-controlled anecdotal study and confirmed a notable change in my boys’ behavior when they have red dye. If they have a large amount of red dye, they are especially hyperactive, rambunctious, and defiant.

For that reason, we’ve chosen to cut them out. Unfortunately, so many foods contain dyes to make them look better and be more appealing. If you look at Doritos or Cheetos or any of the major chip brands, most of those have red dyes in them.

Most soft drinks are also colored with dyes. Same with most hard candy that has a deep color like Skittles or Jolly Ranchers. They’re also in barbecue sauce, fruit bars, and frosting. Pediatric studies have found that kids with ADHD, in particular, are adversely affected by artificial food dyes. No wonder some countries ban them!

Clearly, mass-market food companies care more about their profits than our children, and their lobbies are influencing government policy. It’s up to us to set an example for our children. It may not be convenient or inexpensive, but it’s vital to their future.

Teach Children About the Benefits of Real Food

With the prevalence of processed food and fast food in today’s culture, most children have no concept of where real food comes from. I once talked to a father from Utah who wanted to teach his children about where real food comes from, so he started a small herb and vegetable garden in their backyard, which the kids are responsible for. He talked about how his kids love planting the seeds and watching the plants grow.

Interestingly, the actual food the garden produces is simply a by-product; what the children also gain is the knowledge that in life there are things that take time. Not everything is instantaneous. And how much more fun is that when you actually get to grow the produce, cultivate it, and then make it a part of your meal? The kids get such a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Good Habits Start with You

Just by cutting out processed foods, eliminating food dyes, and starting a small family garden, you can begin teaching and modeling healthy eating habits for your kids.

If not you as their parent, then who else is going to do this for them?

If you want to give your children the ultimate inheritance, it starts with the dietary choices you make right now, when they’re young.

For more advice on modeling healthy eating habits for your children, you can find the book Daddy Saturday on Amazon.

Justin Batt aims to disrupt fatherhood with intentionality, by creating intentional fathers who raise good kids who become great adults. He founded Daddy Saturday in his own backyard with his four children, and it’s grown into a national movement engaging fathers across multiple channels, including YouTube, social media, the Daddy Saturday book, an Alexa skill, a podcast, merchandise, live events, and a 501(c)(3) foundation, through which Justin plans to impact 10 million fathers in the next 10 years. Read more about Justin here.

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