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Dietitians Dish: Parents are children's nutrition role models

By By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
Sept. 17, 2013 at 4:17 a.m.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld

I recently went to a meeting to talk about the health of school-aged children. One of the topics that came up was nutrition. As the discussion went on, it became apparent how much parents influence their children's eating behaviors.

As a parent with young children, I, too, have learned how much I influence my children - although I didn't really notice until someone pointed it out to me. If you have been reading our articles over the last few years, you may have noticed that I have a new picture.

People who saw me on a daily basis kept telling me that I needed to get a new one because of my weight loss. That weight loss has been gradual over the last two and a half years and has been brought on by practicing what I preach: eating a variety of foods (the good and the bad) and exercising routinely. So through this change in my habits, I have changed the way our family eats and exercises.

It took my daughter's physical education teacher telling me that she has noticed a difference in my daughter's reaction to exercise to make me realize just how much my change had influenced my family.

She said that my daughter no longer whined and cried about having to run in P.E.; instead, she now has a competitive spirit when it comes to running. Once the teacher had pointed that out to me, I noticed that my daughter was talking more about healthy foods and wanting to make better choices. I don't use the word diet (except in my professional title of dietitian), as I don't really believe that diet is the answer. In reality, it is a lifestyle change, and no one can make you do it - you have to want to change.

So, from one parent to another, here are two main rules that I have found useful. I hope you take these to heart and realize just how much of an effect you have on your children's relationship with a healthy lifestyle.

Be a role model

Children look at you to set an example, so try new foods (don't make ugly faces when eating those new foods), eat your vegetables (they are good for you), find ways to enjoy cooking at home (don't make it a chore or act like it's an inconvenience to cook for your family) and exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week (find something you love to do, such as walking, riding a bike, swimming or jumping on the trampoline).

Be a parent

What I mean by this is that you are not meant to be your child's friend. You sometimes have to say no - no to multiple sodas during the day, no to doughnuts every morning, no to sitting in front of the TV or computer for hours on end.

I think this is difficult for many parents because we want our children to like us; when in actuality, we need our children to respect us. We are here to guide them in making decisions that are going to benefit them for their entire life. Food and exercise are only minor compared to some of the issues that will come up in their life, but what a great way to exercise your parental role.

Please take these two simple rules to heart. They are words that we don't always want to hear, but it's what we need to hear. Listen and react, for your children's sake.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the clinical nutrition manager/bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare System. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a Master of Science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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